SEPTEMBER 5, 2012
When I added Darkness Falls to my Blockbuster queue, it was to merely see the parts I missed when I slept through most of it in theaters. That was in 2005. Now it's been so long (and I've neglected to re-order my queue) that when it came I realized that I couldn't remember what little of it I saw, and since it had been nearly 10 years, it qualified for an actual HMAD entry. I then hoped the movie would entertain me enough to not notice how old it made me feel that I'm already forgetting stuff from the same year I got my first apartment.
Well, it didn't. It's a mess of a film, with convoluted rules that are mostly broken (she can't go in the light, except when she does) or ignored (a major part of the climax involves a police car - no one thinks to turn the lights on to ward her off). And despite three credited screenwriters, no one ever managed to give the movie a 2nd act - we learn what the issue is and what the stakes are, and then the climax kicks off. I guess the bit about the hero being accused of the killings is supposed to be its middle, but it covers maybe 7 minutes of the movie and just seems to be padding.
Ordinarily, I'd say "and should have been cut" for such matters, but this movie needed all of the help it could get in the runtime department, as the actual movie (which includes a lengthy prologue and an epilogue that seems to kill the idea of a sequel) only runs 74 minutes, which is why the end credits run forever (there's like 10 seconds of nothing in between each actor name) and also why I couldn't remember much - it's possible I was asleep for more than half. There are some deleted scenes on the DVD, and while most are useless, I'm shocked they didn't put them in just to make their narrative less laughably short - there's even a big, fairly decent scare scene that got cut, so their editing logic is baffling.
It's also distractingly "wrong", where the actors and the location didn't quite match the script but no one bothered to fix it one way or the other. So we have a kid that looks like he's 14 losing his last baby tooth (!), but he's in middle school so he should only be like 11. Then it's 12 years later (which would make him about 23) and he's become actor Chaney Kley, who is about 30 and looks nothing like the actor playing the younger him. Not that it matters much to the narrative, but it's just silly that they have actors who are all noticeably older than they are supposed to be and nothing like their younger counterparts (Emma Caulfield's character is played by Sucker Punch's Emily Browning for the flashback - another one that doesn't quite work).
But that's nothing on the location, which is supposed to be a coastal Maine town. Some of the basic look could pass for the area, but the fact that Kley and Caulfield are the only ones that aren't Australian is a bit of a giveaway, and the actors' attempts at hiding their accents are usually unsuccessful. Odd looking license plates and a distinct lack of Canadian tourists are also dead giveaways, making me wonder why they didn't just say it was set in Australia and save themselves the embarrassment. Caulfield's character is also curiously in charge of her younger brother, with not a single mention of her parents - why not just make him her son? Add all this stuff together, and you have a very clunky, jarring movie that seems to be going out of its way to distract the audience from ever believing a second of it.
And that's a big problem when the director was going for a more atmospheric movie than one with a bunch of kills (being PG-13, he didn't have much of a choice). Such films can only succeed if you're completely buying the reality of what's going on - they can't even make me believe in the location of the town, let alone the creepy tooth fairy that's haunting it. And by racing past character development and such, it feels like we've arrived at the finale before we've gotten a handle on everyone, so there's just little reason to care about who lives/dies, or even what's happening at all.
On the plus side, it's well shot by Jonathan Liebesman (his first film) and DP Dan Laustsen, who has a number of similarly impressive looking films on his resume (including The Possession, currently the top box office draw) - I may not believe it was Maine for a second, but the Australian coastline and various light/dark interiors look terrific even on this overstuffed DVD (both cropped/widescreen versions are on the same side, plus about 40 minutes of video supplements) - if the movie was better I'd probably pick up the Blu-ray if it was cheap enough, just to enjoy the look. And I've harbored a crush on Ms. Caulfield since Buffy, so that'd be another high def bonus.
The commentary tracks are more entertaining than the film, sadly enough. One is with Liebesman, co-writer James Vanderbilt, and two of the producers, and they bust each others' balls and laugh about the film's various "issues" (they're particularly amused by the endless end credits) - it's the sort of track that actually pays off those "the views belong to those who said them, not the studio or their affiliates" disclaimers at the top of any recent special edition DVD. The other track by producer/co-writers Joe Harris and John Fasano isn't quite as fun, and some of the same ground is covered, but it's similarly honest. If you have time for both, fine, but otherwise I think just the first track will suffice your need for more Darkness Falls trivia.
The making of and storyboard comparisons can also be bypassed unless this is your favorite movie of the year or something, but the piece on the "real" legend of Matilda Dixon (the tooth fairy) is pretty fun, fleshing out her tragic story and how she has appeared over the years. It's also set in Australia, further confusing the issue about where the film was supposed to be taking place. Then, as mentioned, there are a few deleted scenes, most of which probably could have been left in the movie without harming it any - one even smooths over what seems like a major narrative leap where Caulfield randomly calls a childhood friend from a payphone in the hospital (the deleted bit shows a doctor suggesting she get a second opinion from someone who had dealt with this sort of night terror before). None of it explains why she's taking care of her little brother, however (though Fasano says something like "everything that doesn't make sense DID at one point" on his commentary, though doesn't say if the explanation was ever shot or merely excised through rewriting).
So it's not a good movie, but it's got some merit, and the mostly worthwhile bonus features make it a worthwhile rental, at least (and I'm telling you this now, 9 years after it hit DVD). And also, I'm kind of charmed that a movie this low budget, star-free, and shoddy would have gotten a wide release AND been a big hit just under 10 years ago. The best something along these lines could hope for nowadays is a limited release as part of the next After Dark Horrorfest - but more likely it would debut as a Syfy Original. I suspect it got a bigger push after supernatural horror got hot again thanks to The Ring a few months before, and was possibly rushed (the making of shows them working on the score a mere 6 weeks before it was released), which may account for its sloppiness. Either way, kind of shocked it never got a sequel. What a peculiar little movie.
What say you?