Beyond the Slimy Wall: Darkness Falls
By Stephanie Star Smith
March 21, 2005
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Some movies sound so good on paper. The plot synopsis starts making the rounds of the trades and Web sites, and it reads so well that you can’t hardly wait to see it when it hits the theatres. Sometimes the casting enters the mix, too; so-and-so is attached to star, and that raises your anticipation level that much more. But so much can go oh-so-horribly wrong between page and screen that more often than not, what sounded great on paper is a complete mess by the time it arrives at your local googolplex. Darkness Falls is a film like that.
Well, sort of.
When the movie that ultimately became Darkness Falls began its trek toward the screen, it was originally going to deal with the Tooth Fairy, a retelling of sorts of that myth where the pixie was more toward the banshee than the Tinkerbell end of the fairy tale. Somewhere between synopsis and screen, the Tooth Fairy morphed from an elfin figure to an actual person who, cruelly used by small-town prejudices, returns to wreak vengeance upon the children of the hamlet that done her wrong. Though not as intriguing as the original premise, it still sounded like the makings of a great spook movie. And for most of the film, it is, but unfortunately for Darkness Falls, there is a plot hole big enough to engulf the Grand Canyon and still have room for part of the Great Wall of China. And since the obligatory “Red-Shirt, Red-Shirt, Who’s the Next Red-Shirt?” monster chase sequence is wholly dependent on said chasm, the film ultimately fails to deliver on its promise.
But while I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Darkness Falls, I can’t give it an outright pan, either, as there is so much of the film that works and works quite well. Even given the number of smaller plot holes sprinkled throughout, the film is really a cut above the run-of-the-mill monster-in-the-closet-type flick, and the smaller plot holes wouldn’t be an issue were it not for the Mack truck-sized cavity at the story’s center. So I guess you could call this review two thumbs sideways.
Since I kinda sorta recommend Darkness Falls, I’m going to forego my usual policy of giving away the entire story in detail so as to satisfy your curiosity. This is partly because so much of what surrounds the Plot Hole That Ate the Film is really quite good, but also because I recognize that others might not find the abyss at the middle of the tale to be quite as ginormous as I, nor perhaps feel it affects the film as greatly. And considering the movie’s brisk 86-minute length, I don’t want to discourage anyone from checking it out, even if they do ultimately agree the rest of the film is tainted by that chasm in the center. I will discuss the problematic sequence in great detail, however, so I’ll leave spoiler space on both sides of that portion and also italicize the text so that those of you who want to skip the spoiler will have ample opportunity to safely traverse the review.
A voiceover at the beginning - accompanied by some intriguing period photos - gives us the backstory: Darkness Falls is the name of a small town near the Eastern seaboard, and 150 years ago a kindly old eccentric woman named Matilda Dixon made it her home. All the children in town called her the Tooth Fairy, because they would bring her their baby teeth as they fell out and she would give them a gold coin in return. Then a house fire leaves Matilda severely burned, and although Mr. Helpful Narrator never says so outright, the impression is left that the fire was likely accidental, and that Matilda no longer played Tooth Fairy to the local kinder in its aftermath. As her scars leave her extremely light-sensitive, she becomes a nocturnal denizen of the town, and she wears a porcelain mask to hide the hideous scars left on her face. But poor Matilda is doomed to some of the worst luck on record, it seems; one night, two local children don’t return home, and small-town folks being even less accepting of eccentrics a century-and-a-half ago than they are now, it was quickly decided Matilda was to blame. So the upright citizenry played vigilantes and lynched Matilda, and just to add to her punishment, before hanging her they pulled off her porcelain mask so that all could see her fire-ravaged face. Of course, this being a horror film, the about-to-be-slaughtered innocent naturally laid a curse on the town before dying: “What I took before in kindness, I will take forever in revenge.” Next day, the missing kinder came home safe and sound, and the town buried its shameful deed along with Matilda.
Or so they thought.
For legend has it that Matilda returns to the town on the night when a child loses his or her last baby tooth. She visits the child, and any who look upon her die.
All of which makes a great foundation for a spook movie.
So now we flash-forward to the 20th century and our two protagonists, Kyle and Caitlin, as adolescents. Kyle has just lost his last baby tooth, and decides to forego a skinny-dipping expedition with his friends at the local quarry for a chance to see Matilda. Sadly for him, he succeeds, but unlike many another child, he survives, although under the circumstances that follow, one can’t exactly say he survives unscathed.
We then jump another 12 years ahead and find Kyle as an adult, still haunted by his childhood trauma and afraid of the dark. He is summoned back to Darkness Falls by childhood sweetheart Caitlin, whose brother Michael suffers from exactly the same problems Kyle did as a child (the fact that Michael looks far too young to have lost his last baby tooth is one of those minor plot-holes I mentioned). Kyle accedes to her request and returns to town to help her brother, and also to kick-start the film, although that part isn’t actually mentioned. Of course soon as he hits town, people start dying, making him Prime Suspect Numero Uno.
And this is where Darkness Falls destroys the wonderful momentum it has had going to this point. Spoiler space ahead.
After Kyle is arrested and put in jail for a second time since his arrival , the town suffers a blackout, which is a bad thing when you’ve got a monster skulking around that exists solely in the darkness and can’t abide light. Matilda proceeds to wreak havoc at the police station, allowing Kyle to escape and head for the hospital to protect Caitlin and Michael. Which is in almost complete darkness, with only a few emergency lights scattered throughout the facility still on.
Houston, we have a plot hole.
The problem being that there isn’t a hospital in the country - except, apparently, in Darkness Falls - that doesn’t have a backup generator. Because when you’ve got people on things like respirators and heart monitors and you’ve got doctors performing surgery, it’s not a great thing to lose electricity. So whenever there is a power outage, the hospital’s generator will kick in and all the lights will come blazing back on, along with all the machinery. And the generators are designed to run for days if need be, so that there isn’t any interruption in those life-preserving machines or operations. Yet the hospital at Darkness Falls has only a few lights that remain lit - and not even flicker out and come back on, as if there was a generator somewhere, but just stay on, period - and there is a bit of dialogue stating they only have about 20 minutes of power tops. Good thing they got that sensory deprivation tank we saw in an earlier scene instead of a generator, isn’t it? Oh, and to add insult to injury, as it were, the bloody lighthouse has a backup generator, but not the hospital. So the moral of this part of this story is don’t go to Darkness Falls and get in any sort of situation requiring use of a respirator, cause if there’s a power outage, you’re screwed.
And we end the spoiler space to wrap up. Because after the Plot Hole That Ate the Film, the obligatory who’s-gonna-die-next monster chase sequence ensues, and it’s a damned fine one at that, as is the climactic battle of good and evil. The film even has a bit of a gotcha ending, and the closing credits are very well done, more than worth sticking around for till the very end (which I always do anyway, but if you usually don’t, these are worth the effort).
Darkness Falls could have been a great film were it not for the sloppiness of the humongous plot hole in the script. As it is, the film is just mostly good, but inextricably tainted by the poor writing that sets up the majority of the “Who’s the Next Red-Shirt?” sequence. So if you decide to invest the time, be prepared to come away less awed than slightly disappointed at a great premise that doesn’t entirely fulfill its promise.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.