Darkness Falls? And well it should.
The first new horror film of the new year is the sort of unmitigated donkey crap that makes even a hardcore horror fan like myself understand why the genre is held in such disdain by non-fans. It probably didn’t help that I saw this atrocity within a half hour of seeing the utterly remarkable The Hours — the sort of movie that’s apt to make most films taste like wax fruit — but I really don’t think it mattered all that much.
Darkness Falls is just plain bad — really bad. It’s … yes … the Pootie Tang of horror, though even that flatters it. Pootie Tang was at least peculiar enough to be distinctive. Darkness Falls is a film that — a certain casual stupidity to one side — has no identity. It’s a lame, tedious, unintentionally funny spook show that makes you appreciate the subtle charms and creative originality of the Friday the 13th series. It’s a bad grab bag of horror-film conventions that seems like a good dozen other movies.
To put matters into perspective, I had confused the trailer for Darkness Falls with the one for They. The two movies are pretty interchangeable, too — a character suffering from childhood trauma and night terrors has to face up to the horror that traumatized him. The monsters are different, but the overall approach is the same — except for one thing: Compared to Darkness Falls, They looks pretty good.
Darkness Falls is the name of a small town in Maine where the action takes place. (The action actually takes place in Australia, but the filmmakers insist we’re in Maine — and they can prove it. They have enough 20-plus-year-old American cars to park along a very short side street. So there.) As might be guessed from such a name, the town isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. It has a somewhat unsavory history: About 150 years ago, the friendly folks in Darkness Falls made a little mistake and hanged an old (and fire-scarred) lady known as the Tooth Fairy (no, it ain’t Ralph Fiennes), who used to give the local urchins a gold coin for a lost baby tooth (I seem to remember a quarter or maybe 50 cents as the going rate for baby teeth). Then, when a couple of local youths failed to come home one night, the town decided that the old gal did away with them, and so they offed her. Little did they know that the wayward boys were apparently only off on a jag in some neighboring town (Wheezing Weasel, perhaps).
Without so much as an “oops,” the town of Darkness Falls merely chose to forget this breach of good fellowship. Alas, the Tooth Fairy was might testy about the whole episode, and started a reign of terror against the progeny of her executioners — though it’s really not so much a reign of terror as a drizzle, since till the principle action of the film, she doesn’t seem to have made the kind of impact a vengeful wraith might reasonably expect in a town of 12,000. Indeed, all she seems to have done is to botch killing one young nipper, kill the lad’s mother instead, and then get the hapless boy put away as a murderous nutcase. Uh-huh. Nodding off already, are you? Well, the filmmakers apparently anticipate that, so they constantly indulge in extremely noisy false scares that have nothing to do with the story, just to be sure you’re still awake.
The film then leaps ahead 12 years to find that the boy has aged into Chaney Kley, who now lives in Las Vegas (where there’s plenty of light) in a brightly illumined apartment with enough flashlights to warm the heart of even the most greedy Duracell stockholder. Why? Well, it seems the Tooth Fairy can’t get you in the light. Of course, it also seems the Tooth Fairy can’t get you outside the city limits of Darkness Falls (I think that would be a violation of the Mann Act), so all these luminary preoccupations would appear to be just so much overkill. Then again, our hero is popping every anti-psychotic drug known to man, so the screenwriters don’t have to worry about him behaving logically – and anyway, he’s coming back to Darkness Falls because the little brother of his old girlfriend, Caitlin (Emma Caulfield), is having Tooth Fairy night terrors. At least, I think that’s why he comes back.
There also seems to be some issue with the fact that 12 years ago, Kley was supposed to take Caitlin to a dance (“one of the boy-girl kind” explains the script, suggesting that Darkness Falls is a more happening place than you might guess), and she’s still waiting to be picked up. Once Kley returns to Darkness Falls, the Tooth Fairy shifts into high gear, the mayhem commences — and the script stops. Almost nothing that happens from here forward makes any sense at all.
My personal favorite bit concerns a massive power outage that knocks out everything except the elevators, though a sequence in which the hero gets thrown through a windshield and emerges unhurt seconds later runs a close second. It’s also at this point that the filmmakers stopped writing dialogue for Kley, who merely utters variations on “Get into the light,” “Stay in the light” and “Get back into the light” for the bulk of the proceedings. Yes, I know that Robert Plant told us, “Everybody needs the light,” but this takes the idea to an extreme. The only good thing about any of this is that the movie only runs 75 minutes, though that’s 75 minutes too long.