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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"With her dying breath, Matilda laid a curse upon Darkness Falls..."
DVD ReviewThe thought of a genuinely spooky, atmospheric horror film rated PG-13 was pretty much unthinkable until the success of ones like The Others and the Americanized version of The Ring proved that it could be done, and damn well, at that. Films like those have shown that entries in the genre didn't need to be rated R and laden with extensive gore and nudity to be scary, and in a way, harken back to the classic horror films of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Darkness Falls, the debut feature film from director Jonathan Liebesman, is cut from the same cloth, and while short on actual blood and gore (long the selling point of recent horror), and in some cases common sense and logic, it more than makes up for it with mood and style.
Originally titled Tooth Fairy (a far scarier title, if you ask me), the film begins with a creepy prologue about Matilda Dixon, a hideously burned woman who was lynched by crazed townsfolk of Darkness Falls in the 1800s after being considered a suspect in the disappearance of two young children. Prior to her murder, Matilda would leave treats for children after they lost their last baby tooth, and as she died, wearing her trademark porcelain mask to hide her burned face, she left a curse on the town that she would kill anyone who looked at her. I like the idea of a potentially murderous tooth fairy, and Liebesman sets up the premise quickly, and then jumps the story ahead to modern day to a young boy named Kyle. On the night of losing his last baby tooth, young Kyle is visited by the creepy and spectral Tooth Fairy, aka Matilda Dixon, who proceeds to murder his mother (a crime he is ultimately blamed for).
The story then flash forwards twelve years, and reunites the now adult and darkness-phobic Kyle (Chaney Kley) with his childhood friend Caitlin (Emma Caulfield), whose young brother now suffers from a debilitating case of the night terrors, also caused by a getting an accidental peek at the Tooth Fairy. Kyle has spent the last twelve years immersed in constant light, for fear of Matilda's revenge, and now he must convince Caitlin that her brother's dementia is reality. The screenplay by John Fasano, James Vanderbilt, and Joe Harris establishes some simple preliminary ground rules, like the fact that the Tooth Fairy will kill you if you look at her, and that she really, really doesn't like light. That's basically the parameters within which Liebesman has to work, and Darkness Falls is essentially constructed to put characters in constant situations where light is fading, or in some cases, totally nonexistent, as the Tooth Fairy exacts her vendetta.
Darkness Falls is full of deep shadows and flickering lights, and resembles a haunted house thrill ride more than a conventional horror film. The gaps in logic (common in just about any horror film) are present, like the working elevator during a massive power outage, and the darkest, emptiest hospital since Jamie Lee Curtis wandered the lonely halls of one in the Halloween series. There are plenty of expendable characters (including an entire police station) that meet unpleasant deaths, and the buildup towards the inevitable confrontation barrels along fairly fast, without any marginal subplots to weigh things down.
The visual payoff, in the form of the creature effects done by Stan Winston Studios, are actually the weakest element in the whole film, and when Matilda eventually loses her spooky porcelain mask the moment is somewhat of an emotional letdown. The letdown comes in part because Liebesman and editor Steve Mirkovich have done such a fine job of building breezy tension during the preceding 85 minutes by having Matilda appear eerily in shadow, or as a fast-moving black shape, that the unveiling money shot is an anti-climax.
In one of the commentaries found on this disc, one of the participants calls Darkness Falls a "slumber party" movie, meaning it's the kind of film that can provide plenty of shrieks and jump scares without resorting to gratuitous gore or skin. It's a fun, dumb horror movie that looks properly stylish, though it carries an unsatisfying conclusion that can't match Liebesman's enjoyably moody visuals.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Darkness Falls comes with both a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and full screen transfer on the same side of this dual-layered disc. There is a lot of content on this release, and having it all on the same side of one disc tends to probably detract from the transfer quality slightly, and that is somewhat evident here. This is a dark film, and while black levels are strong, colors are subdued, and tend to come across without any real depth or richness. No major instances of edge enhancement, but there were some minor examples of haloing.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The very aggressive 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track is exceptional, especially on a lower-budgeted horror film, and really made most of the scenes far more suspenseful than they might have been with a less active audio mix. Discrete sound cues (broken branches, rustling sounds and Matilda's demented cackle) rise out of the rear speakers and create a very full sound stage, aided by some truly wall-rattling bass rumbles. Dialogue is reproduced cleanly, though in some louder passages voices tend to be overshadowed by score elements and sound cues.
A French 5.1 track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
7 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Jonathan Liebesman, William Sherak, Jason Shuman, James Vanderbilt, John Fasano, Joe Harris
Extras Review: There are two full-length, scene-specific commentaries on this special edition of Darkness Falls, and one is surprisingly dull, while the other is a blast. The track featuring director Jonathan Liebesman, producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman, and writer James Vanderbilt is the letdown of the two, with the entire commentary plagued by too many voices and not enough content. We get some origin info, and Liebesman points out his homages to E.T. and What Lies Beneath, but most of the time this track was remarkably lackluster. The second commentary, featuring screenwriters John Fasano and Joe Harris is, in direct contrast, a fast-talking joy to listen to, full of humor and sarcasm. The two discuss the development of the mythology of the Tooth Fairy, the numerous draft developments, and the overall process of writing. Along the way, Fasano and Harris manage to poke fun at the silliness of some of their plot points, and they turned this into one of the most entertaining commentaries I've heard in quite a while.
The Legend of Matilda Dixon (10m:43s) is a Blair Witch-styled "fake" documentary of the real Matilda Dixon, supposedly in the town of Port Fairy, Australia. I was believing it until the first of the so-called "real people" interviews occurred, and then the whole thing fell apart. Been there, done that.
The Making Of feature (17m:17s) is your run-of-the-mill behind-the-scenes piece, full of talking heads and film footage. In this one, though, Liebesman actually gets plenty of screen time, and provides some decent background info (why couldn't he do this in the commentary?).
There are seven Deleted Scenes, presented in rough cut widescreen, totaling about ten minutes. Two of them ("Young Caitlin's Necklace" and "Kyle Decides To Help") actually provide a little depth to the characters, while the others seem quite similar to what was used in the final print. The Storyboard Comparisons showcase three scenes, and present the completed version side-by-side with the drawings.
The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and features subtitles in English and French.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThis special edition release of Darkness Falls has an aggressive 5.1 audio transfer that really helped sell the film's many jump scares and spooky moments. While not particularly scary, it is moody and darkly lit, and that was actually enough to make me overlook some of the dumber plot points.
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