- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

A refrain in one of Rudyard Kipling's poems goes, "The female of the species is more deadly than the male." So, too, the makers of "Darkness Falls," a badly executed horror flick, would have us believe.
Set predictably in New England the habitat of creepy puritanism and benighted witch trials "Darkness Falls" tells the tale of the Tooth Fairy, a ghoulish harridan who, local legend has it, pops in on sleeping children to procure the last of their baby teeth.
She's not just after their dangling 2-year molars, however. She wants revenge; she wants their lives. The Tooth Fairy, you see, has a beef with the denizens of Darkness Falls, which is a terrible name for a locality and a lame excuse for a movie title.
The legend, sketched out in a title sequence of grainy daguerreotypes, stems from a mid-19th-century lynching of an amiable old lady named Matilda Dixon, who traded sweet treats and small change for children's baby teeth hence her "Tooth Fairy" nickname.
After a house fire hideously disfigured her face, Matilda became a recluse. When she did appear in public, she wore a white porcelain mask. Starting to get the grotesque picture?
One night, two children went to visit the Tooth Fairy and failed to return, having gotten lost in the woods. The bloodthirsty townsfolk accused Matilda of murdering them and summarily hanged the poor old lady. The next morning, the two children returned, unharmed.
Thus began the Tooth Fairy's immortal campaign of terror against the otherwise good people of Darkness Falls.
With its mythology established, "Darkness Falls" cuts to the bedroom of Kyle Walsh (Joshua Anderson), whom the Tooth Fairy assails and whose mother she kills.
Kyle is fingered for the murder; the doctors say he has acute "night terror," a disassociative disorder that drove him to take his mother's life. He spends almost a decade in a mental hospital but returns (Chaney Kley plays the adult Kyle) to Darkness Falls when the brother (Lee Cormie) of his childhood sweetheart (Emma Caulfield) experiences the same Tooth Fairy terrors.
The fierce, shrewish woman is a time-honored character in Western literature, dating back to Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queen" in the late 16th century. It reached its high-water mark with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose epic poem "Christabel" featured a mean lesbian vampire named Geraldine.
Then Edgar Allan Poe picked up the image and gave us such delights as Berenice, remarkable, funnily enough, for her vampirish teeth.
"The teeth! the teeth! they were here, and there, and everywhere, and visibly and palpably before me," says the narrator in Poe's "Berenice," who, like our Matilda, had a sort of fetish for human choppers.
The Tooth Fairy of "Darkness Falls," then, has a rich pedigree. So, too, does the movie's other theme: fear of darkness, a phobia that is as old as the human species itself.
In the hands of director Jonathan Liebesman and his team of screenwriters, these themes are the stuff of bad punch lines.
"Darkness Falls" is at its best in the first 15 minutes or so, when the Tooth Fairy is merely intimated, when her presence is sensed, but unseen. Effective, too, is an old horror-movie soundtrack trick: the crescendo of dissonant music and then thwack! just a black cat, or a friend appearing in the window.
Once we get a real glimpse of the Tooth Fairy, a flying apparition who swoops down like an eagle to claim her victims, she becomes a laughably inept special effect. She is no longer scary, and the foreshadowing of her arrival (the breathy gurgling noise that movie monsters make ) starts to sound ridiculous.
"Darkness Falls" does one thing consistently well: It makes the world of medicine and its instruments look inhumane and aridly rational. Mr. Liebesman renders green hospital walls lifeless and putrid; doctors (the unbelievers, the skeptics) wear coats that look unnaturally white.
Still, the movie's mythology quickly unravels, and the Tooth Fairy, for some inexplicable reason, decides to let it all hang out and unleashes a night of terror on the town of Darkness Falls that is worthy of the Book of Ezekiel.
The stunts don't work; the action scenes are poorly shot; and the plot hurries awkwardly to a tidy conclusion.
The only way to avoid the Tooth Fairy's clutch, by the way, is to stay in the light, which is the same advice I offer you: Stay in the light and avoid "Darkness."

* 1/2
TITLE:
"Darkness Falls"
RATING:
PG-13 (Perpetual atmosphere of terror, gruesome imagery, brief profanity)
CREDITS:
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Produced by John Hegeman, John Fasano, William Sherak and Jason Shuman. Screenplay by Mr. Fasano, James Vanderbilt and Joe Harris. Music by Brian Tyler
RUNNING TIME:
85 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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