Darkness Falls DVD

Corporate responsibility and greed have ruined horror movies. Pressured by public and political groups to clean up their act and stop marketing adult material to teenagers, Hollywood has gone to such extremes to comply that most of the horror films of the last couple of years feel like shadows of their former self.


Instead of making and marketing R-Rated horror films that obviously appeal to teenagers, Hollywood now makes PG-13-Rated horror films so they can have their cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, with “Darkness Falls,” someone left the cake out in the rain, leaving those of us who appreciate a good, adult scare with nothing more than a watered-down mess.

Even though first-time South African director Jonathan Liebesman and no less than three writers try to manufacture a modicum of suspense and thrills in “Darkness Falls,” they fail. Definitely another case of style over substance, “Darkness Falls” plays like a neutered pit bull in a muzzle: all bark and no bite.

A mostly Australian cast populates this dreary tale of a small New England town haunted by the vengeful spirit of an innocent woman burned alive for misdeeds, but even the folks Down Under seem perplexed by the meandering plot and by-the-book character development.

“Darkness Falls” begins with a prologue set 150 years in the past, where Matilda Dixon, a local of the small town Darkness Falls, is known for her generosity and kindness. Dubbed the Tooth Fairy by children who gladly exchange their baby teeth for gold coins, Matilda’s seemingly simple life goes straight to hell when she’s implicated in the disappearance of two children and burned to death by an angry mob.

Before she dies, Matilda curses Darkness Falls, a curse that goes unheeded even though death seems to stalk generation after generation of children and adults alike. A second prologue introduces us to Kyle, a 12-year-old boy who makes the mistake of putting a recently excised tooth under his pillow, thus summoning the dreaded Tooth Fairy. Even though he escapes the Fairy’s wrath, Kyle’s mother isn’t as fortunate.

Saddled with the horrific (at least in his mind) death of his mother and accusations that he was responsible for it, Kyle leaves Darkness Falls, vowing never to be left in the dark again. Now an adult, Kyle (Chaney Kley) fills his Las Vegas apartment with enough back-up illumination to land the Space Shuttle in a fog bank. When childhood friend Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) summons Kyle back to Darkness Falls to help protect her little brother Michael (Lee Cormie) from the Tooth Fairy, he reluctantly returns.

Kyle’s presence causes concern among the locals and the police, who don’t believe in ghost stories even as their small town encounters one unexpected death after another. Since the audience is already wise to the truth, all of this is just posturing until everyone is one the same page.

Writers John Fasano, James Vanderbilt, and Joe Harris aren’t very persuasive in their arguments, even having difficulty sustaining interest for the film’s twig-thin 80 minute running time. In order for any of this to work, most of the characters are reduced to dimwits. After ten minutes of stunning disbelief, you just wish the Tooth Fairy would kill everyone and put them and us out of our misery.

“Darkness Falls” could have been a wicked fairy tale, but the limited rating never allows director Jonathan Liebesman to pull out all of the stops. The film is very restrained, even for a PG-13 effort. There are occasional jump moments, but they are of the cheat variety and never come with a decent payoff. Liebesman directs with conviction, but he’s not talented enough to realize he’s dealing with marginal material and tired cliches.

The actors aren’t much better, reacting to a boogeyman that is about as frightening as a dentist in clown make-up. Kley looks appropriately frazzled as the tormented adult Kyle, but there is no depth to his performance. You care more about his electric bill than his fate. Caulfield is pretty to look at, but her character is often reduced to nothing more than histrionics, which gets old fast. Cormie is okay as her haunted little brother.

Even though the plot is as old as the hills, I blame “The Blair Witch Project” for the recent proliferation of recent films dealing with pissed-off ancient spirits looking for revenge. I didn’t like “The Blair Witch Project,” but I really hate what it has done to the current state of horror films. Coupled with Hollywood’s desire to get as much bang for their buck as possible, the end result is a film like “Darkness Falls.”

DESSERT

For a film that only did so-so business at the box office, Columbia-TriStar has given the DVD the Special Edition treatment. The DVD features both the original 2.35:1 widescreen (16:9 enhanced) and full screen versions of the film on the same DVD, plus a bevy of extras. So much stuff, so little space. The transfer is good, but not perfect. Most of the film takes place in the dark, and while detail definition is okay, it’s not definitive. A pristine print allows for a relatively artifact free transfer, but colors are muted, shadows spotty, although flesh tones are warm and inviting. The occasional burst of color is sharp but not overly vivid. Depth of field is short, but on the plus side, there’s really not that much to see. Blacks should be rich, but they lack strength.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack (also available in French) is striking, creating a fluid circle of ambient noise, creepy music, with a strong dialogue mix that makes sure you never miss one of the lamebrain lines. Basses are used sparingly, but they are there and well represented, while middle and high ends purr with perfection. Rear speakers are constantly pumping out musical and ambient noise cue, while the front sound stage creates an alluring stereo split that sounds great.

The DVD features two full-length audio commentaries, one with the director, producers, and original writer James Vanderbilt, the other featuring writers for hire John Fasano and Joe Harris. Both are a little self-indulgent, but the first one featuring Liebesman, producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman, and Vanderbilt dispenses enough information to make it worth a listen. They manage to cover all of the bases, and with four men taking their turn at bat, the bases are never empty.

“The Making of Darkness Falls” is your standard issue electronic press kit, with the usual compliment of cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes shots, and some unintentional laughs, all packed into a convenient 17 minutes.

Fans of “The Blair Witch Project” might get a laugh out of “The Legend of Matilda Dixon,” a 10- minute mockumentary about the legend of the Tooth Fairy, all delivered by “locals” trying to keep a straight face.

Three storyboard-to-film comparisons are just what they sound like, split screen comparisons of scenes from the movies and their storyboard counterparts.

The DVD also includes seven deleted scenes, all of them presented as raw footage, most of them extensions of other scenes, none of them vital to the narrative of the film.

DARKNESS FALLS

Columbia-TriStar Home Video

Rated PG-13

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