It's January. The big holiday blockbusters are finally losing a little steam,
but still taking in some cash. The theatres are brimming with wider-release Oscar-contenders
like Adaptation, About Schmidt, Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
. So, which movies will take the gold in
January? Well, let's see. January 10th, Ashton Kutcher, building on the box office
success of Dude, Where's My Car?
, drove Just Married
to the number
one slot. On January 17th the top spot went to Kangaroo Jack
"Please oh please stop calling me 'that fat kid from Stand By Me
And on January 24th, the horror flick Darkness Falls
yanked the title of
box office king out of Kangaroo Jack
's cold, dead pouch.
A glorious victory for the horror fans of America? Well, not really.
Darkness Falls starts out well enough, with an antique attic creepiness.
As sepia-toned photographs bubble and burn and picture-frame glass cracks from
the heat, we get the story of Matilda Dixon of the town of Darkness Falls, an
old lady who, a hundred or so years ago, was in the habit of giving gold coins
to children who lost a tooth. The children took to calling her The Tooth Fairy,
which was all fine until Matilda was disfigured in a fire and became a recluse.
When two children disappeared, the townsfolk blamed Matilda, and strung her up.
Matilda, before she was hung, cursed the townspeople, saying that she would return,
and that "What I once took in kindness, I will take now in revenge."
Decades later, pre-teen Kyle Walsh has just lost his last baby tooth. Caitlin
Greene (Emily Browning from Ghost Ship) sneaks into his room. Kyle fumblingly
asks Caitlin to a school dance. She agrees, and then leans in for a kiss. She
cuts it short, saying, "The first time should be sweet. It shouldn't taste like
blood." Of course, later that night, Kyle gets a particularly unpleasant visit
from the Tooth Fairy, who, we find out, will only attack in the darkness. Flashforward
to a grown-up Kyle, living in Las Vegas, a city of perpetual light. His world
is filled with light bulbs and flashlight batteries and perscription pills: anti-psychotics
and anti-depressants and God-knows-what. He marshals the batteries and the pills
like a weary soldier preparing for battle.
That's the first fifteen or twenty minutes. Good stuff. Unfortunately, that fifteen
minutes is really just a prologue to the same old scares: "Monster is after us."
"Oh look, there's another soon-to-be-dead character the audience doesn't care
about." "Don't turn off the lights." "Oh crap, the lights went off." "Hey, the
cops won't listen to the crazy person, so of course they'll wind up massacred."
"Let's see how many ways we can lose electrical power, lose flashlights, break
flashlights, and somehow manage to only have kerosene lamps that last a few minutes,
in spite of the fact that campers seem to be able to spend hours playing cards
and not run out of kerosene."
So, grown-up Kyle returns to Darkness Falls when he gets a call from grown-up
Caitlin (Emma Caulfield, A.K.A. Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). And
we meet Caitlin's little brother, Michael, who's just lost his last tooth, and
is afraid of the dark. The actor who plays Michael is hushed and sad-eyed, and
is obviously a product of the mysterious process I call Haley Joel Osmosis. The
Tooth Fairy shows up, and if you've seen any horror movies in the last 25 years,
you know what happens next. Which is too bad. The movie could have been sweet,
if it had made use of its back-story more. Say, if it had cut between the story
of Matilda Dixon, the story of young Kyle and Caitlin, and the present-day. I
mean, nothing against Emma Caulfield and Chaney Kley (the actor who played Kyle),
but the young versions of Kyle and Caitlin were a lot more compelling than the
grown-up versions. And, while Matilda Dixon, the vengeful Tooth Fairy, could have
been a great tragic villain, she's mostly reduced to a role that could have just
as easily been played by a man in a white mask or a scaly rubber suit.
A few months ago, my sister reported that she had seen trailers for both (They
and Darkness Falls, and she decided that they were trailers for the exact
same movie. I thought she was just exaggerating, but I have since come to the
conclusion that there were two different versions of the Darkness Falls
trailer. One which was the generic "we're not going to show you the monster"
trailer, and one which revealed that Darkness Falls and They are,
in fact, the exact same movie. Well, not quite the exact same movie. But twins.
Siamese twins. Siamese circus freak twins. Darkness Falls is the slightly
ugly, slightly stupid one that will still manage to make some friends and become
a useful member of (circus) society. They is the smaller, stunted one
that can actually detach itself from its bigger twin, and then run amuck, stealing
the money of theater-goers, and then boring them into slashing their own wrists.
Just how alike are Darkness Falls and They? Let's see:
Stars a supporting player from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Check (They
had Buffy's college beau, Riley Finn).
Opens with a scene in which a young boy encounters a monster in his bedroom? Check.
Said boy grows up to be a heavily medicated adult who is assumed to be a nut-job?
Said boy discovers that the monster is lethal, but can't hurt you as long as you
"stay in the light"? Check.
Said boy spends more money on Energizer batteries than he spends on groceries?
Female childhood friend of said boy at first doesn't believe said boy, but soon
finds out she's wrong? Check.
Main characters are diagnosed with night terrors? Check.
Main characters spend their time making drawings of the monsters that plague them?
The monster's sensitivity to light is actually determined by the whims of the
film-makers, rather than any consistent measurement of luminosity? Check.
Main characters have incredibly bad luck with light bulbs, flashlights, and lanterns?
Main characters refuse to take the logical step, which is to spend half the year
living in the North Pole, and the other half of the year living in the South Pole?
Film-makers assume that the prevailing "less is more" philosophy of horror movie-making
means that it's okay to make an entire film about people running around in the
dark, crouching and screaming at something they can barely see and the audience
can see even less of? Check.
PG-13 strikes again, and those raised on Romero and Raimi actually start looking
forward to Rob Zombie's upcoming House of a Thousand Corpses, because even
if it sucks, it'll at least be a change of pace from the "tasteful" and toothless
horror-lite made to draw in the junior high crowd.
Of course Darkness Falls is twice as good as They, which, come to
think of it, really isn't saying much. The opening parts were nifty, and the sound-designers
made the most excellent use of surround sound that I've heard in quite a while.
The Tooth Fairy was pretty cool-looking, with a porcelain mask and a flowy, ethereal
cloak, but her attacks were mostly just endless variations on the old fun-house
trick of hoisting a dummy on a rope and dropping it on passersby. There were a
few good laughs, a few good scares. But I guess it all comes down to this. Darkness
Falls is like that 15-year-old roller coaster at the local amusement park.
If it's your first time riding the roller coaster, it's great fun. The second,
the third, the fourthÖ still a thrill. After a while though, you start looking
for bigger coasters, or at least different ones, because the fun is in the surprises.
You get tired of riding the same coaster over and over again.
Darkness Falls -- which I will refer to, for the next four days, in
all capital letters, as THE NUMBER ONE MOVIE IN AMERICA -- is the same old coaster.
Which wouldn't be so bad, except I know that some people, a very few, are making
new coasters. The annoying thing about the financial triumph of quick-buck genre
movies like Darkness Falls is that these movies get wide releases, while
top-notch horrors like Frailty, Brotherhood
of the Wolf, and Dog
Soldiers are released on just a handful of screens or (in the case of
Dog Soldiers) don't get an American release at all.