FILM REVIEW *
Afraid of the Dark?
Darkness Falls Fails to Scare
Written by Joseph Harris IV
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Starring Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield
Horror movies usually have more than one monster. The very best tap into our collective nightmares and portray the fears we bury under rationality, cynicism, and our daily grind. Darkness Falls is by no means in the same league as Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Psycho; in fact the most horrifying thing about Sony Pictures’ new horror flick is the acting.
The film does tap into a lurking fear of the seemingly innocuous bureaucracy we all live with, a bureaucracy that never seems to care about the little guy no matter how much trouble he’s in. As scary as the plot’s demon is, what’s more likely to leave you shivering on leaving the theater is institutionalized dehumanization in the form of medicine, psychiatry, and the law, which threaten to kill the film’s characters if the demon doesn’t.
The town in Darkness Falls lives with a secret. As the legend goes, 150 years ago, town officials wrongly accused and hung an old woman, Matilda, for the murder of two children. When the children were found safe and sound the next day, the curse Matilda made with her final breath descended upon the guilty inhabitants. On the day a child loses that last baby tooth, she promised, she would get them. If a child dared to look at her and escape, she would hunt that child forever. One crucial thing: Matilda, alive or dead, can’t stand the light.
Twelve years ago, after unsuccessfully hiding his last tooth, Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley) saw the ghost of Matilda maul his mother to a bloody pulp. Again, police convicted the wrong killer, locking Kyle away. No one believed him when he described what he saw; he was considered psychotic and was heavily medicated. Now living in a barren Las Vegas loft vibrating with heavy metal and lit with industrial strength lamps, Kyle spends his days planning for the night. Instead of guns, he hoards flashlights. When he is in the light she can not get him.
Then, when his middle-school girlfriend Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) calls to say her brother “has what he had,” and that he’s been in a hospital unable to sleep for 10 days, Kyle packs a bag of batteries and returns to face the demon.
The creepiest moments in the film take place in the psychiatric hospital where Caitlin’s brother Michael (Lee Cormie) is under observation. Besides strung-out Michael, his worried sister, and a few robotic hospital personnel, there are few signs of life. The vacant hallways and bleak patient rooms gleam like sterile torture chambers. The lifeless gray that covers the walls, floors and bedsheets blends into the uniforms of indifferent nurses.
Even when ten-year-old Michael screams night after night to keep the lights on, insisting “she” would kill him if he was in the dark, doctors recommend he be put in a deprivation chamber in order to help the boy “face his fear.” Similar incidents occur with the police and the law. No one listens to the truth from Kyle or Michael, people in real need of help. Only imminent death makes them see the light.
Darkness Falls grew out of a 2001 short called Tooth Fairy. Writer and director Joseph Harris IV received a story credit for this film, turning what was a campy bit of dark humor into an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at a full-blown genre piece. Director Jonathan Liebesman (Immortals) wanted Darkness Falls to recall its illustrious predecessors, so he filled it with necessary iconography (scary mask, blackouts, haunted bedrooms) and technical motifs (closeups of terrified eyes, hand-held chases through the woods, ominous overhead shots). But the script gives Liebesman and his actors scant material on which to hang these trappings. Though the sound design, living up to tradition, mounts panic when darkness falls on the screen, the paltry dialogue often kills the mood.
Darkness Falls isn’t poised to spawn a series of sequels. Its central conflict between light and dark and deliberate association of darkness with evil, though somewhat indebted to horror tradition, may anger viewers. But, most likely due to the film’s mediocrity, people won’t take it that seriously. I know I don’t.