"Darkness Falls" -- with a thud. But it does not go gently into the night, for director Jonathan Liebesman and his large crew cram as much style and energy as they can into a hokey and morbid supernatural thriller plot. It's a downer to see so much effort expended on such junk.
With Australian locales standing in effectively as the settings for the New England coastal town of Darkness Falls, this Columbia release tells the story of how, 150 years earlier, resident Matilda Dixon was so well-loved in the community for her caring for its children she became known as the "Tooth Fairy." A terrible fire, however, left her so scarred she became reclusive and took to wearing a white porcelain mask. When two small children disappeared, Matilda was accused of murdering them and was summarily hanged but not before promising revenge. The day after her execution, the two children turned up unharmed.
The film begins by flashing back 12 years from the present day. A Darkness Falls boy, Kyle, places his tooth under his pillow, which has the effect of summoning Matilda from the dead. Shrouded in black, her mask in place, she zooms through the air, swooping down to terrorize the boy and kill his mother. Moving to the present we find Kyle's erstwhile girlfriend Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) tracking him down in Las Vegas to ask his help, for her little brother Michael (Lee Cormie) is hospitalized, in the throes of the same kind of night terrors and total fear of the dark that haunted Kyle.
Still afraid of the dark and propped up by heavy doses of anti-psychotics, Kyle (Chaney Kley) realizes that Matilda is up to her old tricks, but how can he convince Caitlin of the bizarre truth about what Michael is experiencing? Not surprisingly, "Darkness Falls" proceeds to a showdown in which man, woman and child must confront and attempt to defeat the wraith of the vengeful Matilda.
"Darkness Falls" is as flimsy as it sounds and is not all that scary, although the filmmakers and their cast strive mightily to work up some thrills and chills. That they throw in a couple of intentionally funny lines now and then, providing a smart touch of humor, shows they know they're merely shining so much schlock.
Yet "Darkness Falls" cannot be said to leave us without some lessons, past and present. First, that the community, if it was going to execute Matilda, should have burned her at the stake instead of hanging her, and second, that no Darkness Falls kid should ever place teeth under his or her pillow.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for terror and horror images and brief language.
Times guidelines: Strong images of terror and horror; too intense for children.
A Columbia Pictures release of a Revolution Studios presentation of a Distant Corners/Blue Star Pictures production. Director Jonathan Liebesman. Producers John Hegeman, John Fasano, William Sherak, Jason Shuman. Executive producers Derek Dauchy, Lou Arkoff. Screenplay by Fasano and James Vanderbilt and Joe Harris; from a story by Harris. Cinematographer Dan Lausten. Editors Steve Mirkovich, Tim Alverson. Music Brian Tyler. Creature designed and created by Stan Winston Studio. Costumes Anna Borghesi. Production designer George Liddle. Art director Tom Nursey. Set decorator Rebecca Cohen. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
In general release.