It is a shame that movie remakes usually cover films that were already perfect the first time. The ones that truly deserve a second shot are those based on interesting concepts but which, for one reason or another, collapsed upon execution.
“Darkness Falls,” a 2003 horror film directed by Jonathan Liebesman, is Exhibit A for this argument.
At first glance the premise may seem too silly: A killer tooth fairy murders children who peek and see its face. How can that ever be taken seriously?
The shame of it is that the source material for “Darkness Falls,” as well as the first 13 minutes of the film itself, demonstrates precisely how that kind of story can actually be not just scary, but downright nightmarish. Without giving away spoilers, I will simply say that the 2003 graphic novel “Darkness Falls: The Tragic Life of Matilda Dixon” — a prequel that gives the killer tooth fairy a back story — reads as a parable for the tragedies that ensue when prejudice, callousness, casual cruelty and mob mentality are allowed to run amok. The story, which was written by “Darkness Falls” co-screenwriter Joe Harris, is all the more harrowing because it centers on children who just want to see the tooth fairy for themselves. In some ways they are innocent, in some ways not so much, but when their characters’ arcs intersect with those of Matilda Dixon in the story’s climax, the payoff is unforgettable.
The first 13 minutes of “Darkness Falls” are similarly intriguing. We are introduced to young characters in the 1990s similar to the protagonists of “The Life of Matilda Dixon,” which was set in the 1840s. There is a sweetness and authenticity to the young actors’ chemistry that makes their brief scenes really work. After that ends, one of them is forced to watch as their mother is murdered by the killer tooth fairy. Helpless to save the parent or prove his innocence to authorities, they are condemned as crazy and shunned much as Dixon once was herself.
This is a great setup. Then the movie makes two devastating creative mistakes:
1. It flashes forward to when our two protagonists are adults, even though a killer tooth fairy-based story works best when children are involved. (They are the ones who actually believe in tooth fairies, after all.)
2. It stops focusing on its mythology and developing the existing core characters, instead rushing through formulaic plot points to reach an abrupt conclusion after just over an hour.
I cannot explain these decisions. It is hard to imagine that Liebesman is at fault: His “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” prequel is one of the best horror films of the 21st century. Yet here he whiffs. I won’t even guess as to why, but it is a tragic fact.
I can’t in good conscience recommend a 23-page graphic novel and 13 minutes of a movie simply on the grounds that, with enough imagination, you can speculate as to how those stories could have been wrapped up with a decent third act. Some may enjoy such activities (I won’t say whether I am among them). Instead I will merely note that a smart filmmaker, using merely those materials, could make a strong horror movie. If they’re particularly skilled, they could even craft a franchise.
Instead we’re left with “Darkness Falls,” which is a good prequel graphic novel and one-sixth of a good movie. If you don’t mind the five-sixths of mediocre movie that follows, check it out. I just wish someone would remake it. Maybe the Liebesman who got Leatherface better than any other director can rewrite Acts Two and Acts Three of the killer tooth fairy story that was entrusted to him.