Amidst a current ‘Golden Era’ of horror, it’s hard to remember that the genre experienced lean times in the 90s and early aughts. Yes, Wes Craven’s Scream sparked a brief neo-slasher trend. And several years later, Saw kicked off the ‘Torture Porn‘ craze while Hollywood raided VHS shelves for remakes. In between these trends, studios were content to release mediocre PG-13 horror movies for a quick and easy profit. From Bless the Child to Gothika, most of these movies made money at the box office while critics turned up their noses to them. One of these movies, Darkness Falls, at least had an interesting premise – what if the ‘Tooth Fairy’ was real? And evil? Though it was a surprising box office hit, critics absolutely hated it. Nearly 20 years have passed since Darkness Falls pulled critics’ teeth – is it just a ‘bad movie’ or is it ‘so bad, it’s good’?
Twelve years ago, Kyle Chaney’s mother died tragically. Just a young boy, Kyle claimed that a local legend based on the ‘Tooth Fairy’ killed his mother. But local authorities suspected Kyle was disturbed and responsible for the crime. After spending several years in a psychiatric institution, a childhood friend begs Kyle to come back to his hometown of Darkness Falls. She believes the same entity that stalked and killed Kyle’s mother is now after her son. Initially reluctant, Kyle returns home to confront the monster who took his mother’s life.
Darkness Fall a Poorly Edited, Middling Attempt at Horror
A horror movie about the ‘Tooth Fairy’ could go in one of two directions. Darkness Falls could have been a campy, B-movie that embraced its inherently silly concept. Or Darkness Falls could have turned a childhood folktale into a gripping nightmare. Instead, director Jonathan Liebesman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) and no less than three writers delivered an unremarkable PG-13 horror movie. In just under 90 minutes – which includes the credits – Liebesman et al. overindulge in tropes. Yes, our protagonist Kyle encounters Matilda Dixon, the ‘Tooth Fairy’, as a child and no one believes him. Bodies turn up, everyone suspects Kyle, and once the cast is thinned out, Kyle proves himself right. Somewhere in the screenplay is an interesting idea about the ‘Tooth Fairy’ avoiding the light that’s never exploited to its full potential. Horror fans would have to wait another decade before Lights Out got that premise right.
…the editing ultimately reduces the action to nearly incomprehensible mess.
In addition to its generic, trope-heavy plot, Darkness Falls has a couple of other big problems. First and foremost, it’s just not scary. Liebesman can’t conjure up a single jump scare to rouse audiences. This largely stems from the awful editing that plagues this horror movie. With such frenetic editing, it’s almost impossible to ever see what’s really happening on the screen. Maybe it’s an intentional strategy to minimize the impact of the middling CGI effects that were just commonplace for early aughts horror. But the editing ultimately reduces the action to nearly incomprehensible mess. Though well-make PG-13 horror movies can be as intense as any R-rated outing, Darkness Falls is a neutered outing. In the same year it was released, Saw would hit theaters making this one feel dated before it hit video store shelves
Darkness Falls Lacks a Truly Frightening Villain
Though there’s potential in the premise, Darkness Falls wastes it on a dull origin and equally dull characters. Even if you ignore the shaky CGI effects, the ‘Tooth Fairy’ design isn’t inspiring stuff. What Liebesman et al. deliver is a generic-looking supernatural entity – and that’s when you can make out the details in between the jarring editing. And the screenplays background story for the elderly Matilda Dixon sounds like something you’d find in just about any supernatural horror movie. That Darkness Falls doesn’t even use a flashback or two to initially humanize the ‘Tooth Fairy’ leaves audiences further detached. Neither sympathetic nor scary, ‘The Tooth Fairy’ remains a background figure throughout the movie.
Even if you ignore the shaky CGI effects, the ‘Tooth Fairy’ design isn’t inspiring stuff.
But she’s far more interesting than any of the human characters. Poor Emma Caulfield. Following an excellent stint on the Buffy the Vampire series as vengeance demon ‘Anya’ she’s given absolutely nothing of interest to do here. Essentially, Darkness Falls regulates Caulfield to a ‘love interest’ role in a move that clips along fast enough to lack any satisfying character arc to justify the need for such a character. All the charm Caulfield flashed in Buffy never gets a chance to shine. As the central protagonist, Chaney Kley doesn’t have much more from the screenplay with which to work. Like Caulfied’s performance, Kley doesn’t have much opportunity to deliver anything interesting. Sadly, Kley passed away a few years after Darkness Falls.
Darkness Falls Was the Kind of Horror Movie That Gave PG-13 a Bad Name
Here’s a prime example of the kind of generic PG-13 horror movie studios where churning out for most of the 90s and early 2000s. Bland characters, trope-filled screenplay, lack of scares, and manic endings doom Darkness Falls. But its greatest sin may be wasting a horror movie about the ‘tooth fairy’ on this forgettable effort. Arguably, the only plus is that Liebesman keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Darkness Falls doesn’t overstay its welcome, which may be a deterrent to the story but it at least makes the viewing experience less painful. Consider this a case of Rotten Tomatoes getting it right.