It’s obvious something went horribly wrong with Darkness Falls based on its opening sequence. Most horror movies try to build a bit of a mystery about what’s really going on, but Darkness Falls doesn’t want you to ask any questions. It offers up several possible explanations — chief among them, that one of the main characters is a serial killer — and then quashes any possibility of those explanations with one of the longest, most tedious sequences of backstory I’ve seen in a film that doesn’t also offer a life insurance policy in case audience members die of fright. It’s not the worst horror movie ever made, but it’s decidedly sanitized for our protection, and somewhat insulting to the members of the audience who like to ask questions or be surprised.

The first of two prologues goes like this: An unknown narrator offers up all the backstory we’ll ever need, and then some. In the New England town of Darkness Falls, a child-loving widow (known as “the Tooth Fairy” because of the gifts she would give when local children lost their teeth) got horribly disfigured in a fire, which left her hypersensitive to light. As a result, she wore a porcelain mask over her face and only went out at night. Not long after, two boys went missing. The townspeople blamed the Tooth Fairy, hanged her, and ripped off her mask, exposing her face to the light. As she died, the Tooth Fairy vowed revenge. For generations, the story of the Tooth Fairy was passed around by frightened children, but none of them realized the numerous child deaths in Darkness Falls were a direct result of the Tooth Fairy’s revenge.

After this lengthy dissemination of information, the movie opens with a second prologue, this one a flashback to Caitlin’s (played as an adult by Emma Caulfield) childhood. She shared a friendship/attraction with Kyle (played as an adult by Chaney Kley), who has just lost his last baby tooth. In the night, he’s visited by the Tooth Fairy. Knowing the legend, he shines a flashlight on her and runs. Kyle’s mother insists there’s nothing there and is killed for her hubris. The police blame Kyle, and he spends the remainder of his teenage years in a mental hospital.

Twelve years later, the movie proper starts. Caitlin’s parents are dead, so she has to take care of her little brother, Michael (Lee Cormie), whose fear of the dark causes him to stop sleeping altogether. She takes Michael to a variety of doctors, but they don’t have satisfactory explanations. Remembering Kyle’s weird fear of the dark, Caitlin tracks him down. Over the phone, she can’t tell Kyle still lives with his obsessive fear of darkness, and she asks him to help Michael get over his fear and grow out of it.

Naturally, when night falls, the Tooth Fairy arrives, and the remainder of the movie combines shadowy scare tactics with goofy attempts to kill the Tooth Fairy once and for all. If you think the ultimate solution may involve that porcelain mask, congratulations! You’ve seen bad horror movies before!

So what went wrong here? A capable cast, led by Emma Caulfield of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, doesn’t have much to work with. Generic scares, bad exposition, improbable narrative turns, and not much else. Director Jonathan Liebesman manages to find more style in the shadowy hospitals of Darkness Falls than he gave to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

No, the real problem comes from a screenplay that’s barely feature length, and is padded with unnecessary prologues and extra-long credits. It’s not that the film lacks ideas — it just removes any potentially interesting character traits or plot development to provide the most watered-down, easily digestible horror film imaginable. Why is Caitlin’s brother 20 years younger than she is? Why are her parents dead? Because heroines in generic movies can’t be single mothers. Why — other than padding its runtime — does the movie make it explicitly clear that the Tooth Fairy is real, when one of its major story points revolves around Kyle getting arrested for the Tooth Fairy’s crime? Because heroes aren’t serial killers, and the filmmakers obviously felt the audience would have a hard time thinking, even for a second, that Our Hero might be a killer instead of an innocent victim.

It’s all just lazy and disappointing. The Tooth Fairy could work as the subject of a horror story, considering the subtle depravity of the fantasy: A fairy sneaks into children’s bedrooms while they sleep to trade baby teeth for money? That’s pretty demented. Darkness Falls robs the concept and characters of anything interesting, delivering painful mediocrity to an unsuspecting audience.

D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.

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