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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Darkness Falls (2003)
Darkness Falls (2003)
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // April 22, 2003
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 8, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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A century and a half ago, the elderly Matilda Dixon was beloved by all the children in the sleepy town of Darkness Falls. Whenever one of them would lose a tooth, she'd exchange it for a single gold coin, earning her the nickname "The Tooth Fairy". Townsfolk couldn't look at Matilda quite the same way again after she was horribly burned in a fire, deformed to the point where she had to resort to wearing a porcelain mask so as to not horrify her friends and neighbors. Their distrust of Matilda grew after the accident, and when two young locals vanished mysteriously, all fingers immediately pointed her direction. The innocent Matilda was quickly and unjustly hanged for their murders, mere days before the pair of kids would return unharmed. With her dying breath, the Tooth Fairy swore revenge, but upon learning of their grave error, the townspeople could do little more than bury their secret with her lifeless corpse. Over the coming decades, a legend had formed in Darkness Falls that Matilda's spirit pays kids a visit when they lose their final baby teeth, and those who sneak a peek at the Tooth Fairy get something a bit nastier than a quarter under their pillows.

Kyle Walsh had heard that story more times than he'd care to count, but his inevitable run-in with the Tooth Fairy left him with more than just a bad dream or two. He was accused of his mother's gruesome murder at the spaded claws of the Tooth Fairy, leading to an extended stint in the psych ward and an intense fear of the dark that continues to haunt him twelve years later. His childhood friend Caitlin Greene (Emma Caulfield) phones the now-adult Kyle (Chaney Kley) when her younger brother starts rattling off the same nonsense about a bloodthirsty tooth fairy. Young Michael (Lee Cormie) hasn't sleep more than ten minutes at a time for weeks, and every time the lights go out, he winds up scratched and bloodied. With both Kyle and Michael within claws' reach, the Tooth Fairy steps up her efforts, blacking out the town and slaughtering everyone in her path.

The blurb emblazoned on the bottom of the cover art boasts that "for sheer terror, it runs rings around The Ring." There are certainly worse films to use as a point of comparison, and there are clear surface similarities between the two. Both movies feature a pre-pubescent kid haunted by visions few seem to understand, protected from a near-mythical, vengeful spirit by an attractive female family member in her late 20s/early 30s and her former flame. Another point of reference would be Jeepers Creepers, from its briefly glimpsed, almost insect-like wallcrawling monster to a nearly shot-for-shot reproduction of the police station shoot-out. These similarities are both unintentional (the movie had been in development well before either of those hit theaters), but as an Internet-based reviewer, I'm kind of obligated to ramble on about nothing in particular.

It doesn't require an extensive amount of time and effort to jot down a list of complaints about Darkness Falls, which scored a paltry 7% on review metasite Rotten Tomatoes, scoring even less than the universally reviled Kangaroo Jack. I'll add a rare dissenting voice to the crowd: I liked Darkness Falls. I feel obligated to qualify the hell out of that statement, though. It's not the creature flick suggested by the trailers, and there's nothing about the Tooth Fairy herself that's particularly endearing, interchangable with any number of other slasher villains. Thanks to its PG-13 rating, exploitive elements are kept rather tame, with no nudity and scarcely any gore or grue on-screen. Both the dialogue and performances are serviceable but instantly forgettable. The movie is heavily reliant on cliches, telegraphing almost every twist and turn well in advance. There's the stereotypically cute kid (compwete wif a disawming speech pwobwem) that seems to pop up in every third horror movie since The Sixth Sense. There's a rekindled romance between two long lost loves as they battle it out with this mostly unseen creature. There's even a damn cat that leaps out of nowhere onto the frame, providing Darkness Falls' lamest jump scare.

There are a lot of other jump scares, though, gingerly distributed every few minutes, and a few of them had me bouncing several feet off of my couch. Darkness Falls has several genuinely tense sequences that, if a bit on the predictable side, had me literally on the edge of my seat. The logical part of my mind was baffled, in total disbelief that I was being sucked into an unremarkable movie in this way, but there I was, perched on my couch, knowing full well what was going to happen but excited nonetheless. Darkness Falls moves along at a good pace, not dragged down by any weighty exposition, unnecessary character development, or similar filler once the movie gets underway. This ought to be expected given its lean runtime -- discounting the opening narration and exceptionally long closing credits, Darkness Falls barely tops 70 minutes.

Darkness Falls, though not a particularly memorable entry in the genre, accomplishes what it sets out to do. It is visually well-presented without getting bogged down by needlessly excessive CGI or headache-inducing MTV quick cutting, kills an hour and a half without ever becoming boring, and provides a couple of modest scares. Darkness Falls is recommended as a rental, and its release on DVD includes enough in the way of supplemental material to fill the better part of an evening.

Video: Darkness Falls features both full-frame and 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentations on this single RSDL disc. As is to be expected from such a recent theatrical release, the source material is in immaculate shape, not marred by any noticeable speckling, nicks, or assorted damage. During my second pass through the disc, I kept an occasional eye on the bitrate, which seemed to most frequently however between 3.5 and 4.5 Mbps. Despite the slightly shorter than usual length of the movie, quite a bit has been packed onto this disc, and perhaps the alternate full-frame presentation and some of the supplements come at the expense of crispness and clarity. Darkness Falls didn't strike me as being soft, but there were a number of shots, particularly wider shots and those set in extremely low light, where the image seemed like it should have been sharper than it is. The palette is appropriately dreary, in keeping with the tone of the movie, and blacks remain deep and inky throughout. A grainy sort of noise is present to greatly varying degrees throughout, though it's rarely intrusive. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is decent, certainly, but it doesn't stand out as anything more than ordinary for a studio release.

Audio: As many complaints can be lobbed at producers for the current state of studio horror, the quality of their audio isn't among them. Modern horror flicks almost always sound phenomenal, and Darkness Falls' Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is no exception. It's an energetic, dynamic mix, with activity abundant in every channel. The surrounds provide an extensive amount of ambiance and directionality, building an immersive sonic environment, and the thundering bass had my subwoofer rumbling more frequently and more loudly than any other movie I've watched in a pretty good while. My only complaints revolve around the rendering of the movie's dialogue. Some of the looping stands out as more noticeable than usual, and there are a handful of scenes where the dialogue sounds unusually shrill, in stark contrast to the remainder of the film. There are several lines where the dialogue is too low to be fully discerned, particularly Captain Henry in a conversation with Kyle at the police station.

Also included is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 dub, and both six-channel mixes have been encoded at Columbia/Tri-Star's usual full-frame/widescreen combo bitrate of 384Kps rather than the standard 448Kps. Rounding out the audio options are subtitles in English and French as well as closed captions.

Supplements: Darkness Falls is a pretty loaded special edition, kicking off with a pair of audio commentaries. The filmmaker commentary features first-time director Jonathan Liebesman, producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman, and writer James Vanderbilt. It's a commentary that's equal parts fun and informative, and viewers who enjoyed the movie definitely ought to give it a shot. There are a lot of laughs and quips, ranging from jabs at the title to each others' ineptitude on the set. From Michael Bay dialogue scenes to a long-distance request in a Port-a-potty for dialogue, from a lactating cast member to Emma Caulfield's wig, from musings about cricket to the inexplicable appeal of Jell-O, the four of them keep the discussion moving non-stop and constantly have each other in stitches. In between the jokes, they fit in a ton of comments about the progression of the movie from a five-minute short to a successful feature film, including the evolution of the screenplay (originally, there was supposed to be doubt as to whether or not there was a Tooth Fairy), technical notes about the effects and how certain shots were pulled off, what they were trying to accomplish with the characters, and how you keep three days of stubble on an actor for the entire length of a shoot. They joke about the horror cliches that snuck into the movie, tackling (and often agreeing) with some of the complaints made by critics. Also of interest is the list of homages to various movies in Darkness Falls, including Requiem for a Dream, Signs, E.T., Alien, Saving Private Ryan, and, um, Darkness Falls.

The second commentary with writers John Fasano (who dominates) and Joseph Harris is a little more serious and often reiterates what's on-screen, but it's still an enjoyable, worthwhile listen. They speak more in depth about the differences between drafts. Initially, the Tooth Fairy existed in another dimension and could only enter our world through darkness. Another early idea was that the group yanked out their teeth as kids to see the Tooth Fairy, who could only slash and kill adults who had seen her in their youth. Kyle's other possible career choices involved a late-night stint at 7/11 and a non-PG-13-friendly gig at a strip club. An early ending with Kyle was significantly darker as well. The Tooth Fairy also underwent a number of changes, initially fond of tearing off its victims' lower jaws. The two also discuss the process of developing a screenplay, which mostly involves getting notes from the studio to make things clearer, adding exposition at their request, then watching that newly-added exposition get lopped out during editing because it drags down the pacing. They mention the Jeepers Creepers comparison (though not by name) in the police station and delve into why they think their approach is superior. The writers also try to justify the cat jumping on the hood of Caitlin's car, taking the post-modern horror excuse...blah. Done better in There's Nothing Out There. They also note a complaint from another company -- Maglite wasn't fond of how easily their flashlights broke when dropped.

The commentaries give the impression that quite a bit was left on the cutting room floor, but only around nine and a half minutes of deleted scenes have been provided on this disc, presented as rough letterboxed, time-coded footage with stereo audio. Most of the scenes are aptly titled -- "Dr. Murphy's Advice" (1:02), "Kyle Decides to Help" (0:46), "The Specialist" (0:36), and "Dr. Murphy Sticks with the Group" (0:30). "Young Caitlin's Necklace" (1:17) involves a gift to Kyle when he's spirited away following his mother's murder, and that necklace is paid off in "Kyle Decides to Help". "Hallway of Lights" (3:30) is an extended version of the hallway sequence that was significantly (and wisely) shortened in the final cut, which excised these several minutes of moaning and helpful hints like "keep walking!" Unless I'm completely misremembering how the movie ends, the "Final Confrontation" (1:55) really isn't all that different.

Just as Darkness Falls features two commentaries, there are also a pair of featurettes. The first, The Legend of Matilda Dixon (10:45), is a mockumentary that takes a look at the events over the past 150 years in Port Fairy, Australia that supposedly inspired the film. The "Making Of" featurette (17:17) features interviews with the bulk of the primary cast and crew, focusing a bit more on concept than execution. There's some of the usual mutual backpatting and punctuation with lengthy clips from the film, but it steers clear of seeming excessively fluffy or promotional. The Legend of Matilda Dixon is full-frame, and the "Making Of" is presented in anamorphic widescreen. Both featurettes feature Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (192Kps).

Finally, there are three sets of storyboard comparisons, enhanced for widescreen televisions and running a few seconds shy of four and a half minutes. The footage compared includes the death of a supporting character who I won't reveal here for obvious spoiler purposes, the elevator scene, and the final confrontation with the Tooth Fairy.

I really liked Darkness Falls' original theatrical trailer, but for whatever reason, one isn't provided here, presumably to avoid gobbling up any more bits. The trailer can be found on other DVD releases from Revolution Studios, such as the abysmal Stealing Harvard. Another one obvious extra that could've been provided was Joseph Harris' five-minute short film The Tooth Fairy, which inspired its feature-length counterpart. If the short is available as some sort of hidden Easter Egg, I must have glossed over it during my menu trawling.

The DVD features 16x9-enhanced menus, and the main animated menu continues with the burning photograph theme seen under the movie's opening narration. Darkness Falls has been divided into twenty-eight chapters, but I'd suggest avoiding so much as a glance at the "Scene Selections" menu or the disc's chapter list insert. Both have an unobscured shot of an unmasked Tooth Fairy, who isn't seen in the movie as such until its final moments.

Conclusion: Darkness Falls isn't the sort of instant classic that horror buffs are likely to fawn over for decades to come, but it's substantially better than most of its lackluster competition in the PG-13 fright arena. A couple of good jump scares and a healthy smattering of supplemental material ought to make for a decent rental, though I wouldn't recommend it with any great enthusiasm as a purchase sight-unseen. Rent It.

Related Links: The official Darkness Falls site includes a preview and random bits of interactivity. Yahoo, along with a trailer and a handful of brief clips, has the entire first ten minutes of the movie online.
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