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When Darkness Falls PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Ron Bonk   
Jan 11, 2005 at 02:00 AM
In Darkness Falls, Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley) returns home to confront his troubled past and save his childhood sweetheart Caitlin (Emma Caulfield), and her younger brother Michael (Lee Cormie), from an unrelenting evil that has plagued the town of Darkness Falls for more than one hundred and fifty years.

"This story is about someone who's afraid of the dark -- or so everyone thinks," says Darkness Falls producer John Hegeman. "But Kyle soon realizes that there really is something out there in the dark ? and it's trying to kill him."

The story of Darkness Falls brings together two universal concepts, fear of the dark and the childhood memory, of "the Tooth Fairy," according to the film's director Jonathan Liebesman. "Only we've turned the idea of the 'Tooth Fairy' on its head. Instead of an angelic presence, this 'Tooth Fairy' is a murderous old hag who is terrorizing the whole town."

Matilda Dixon (aka "the Tooth Fairy") is a long-dead resident of the New England town of Darkness Falls, who was unjustly murdered more than 150 years ago and has returned to seek revenge. "If you see her face, she'll kill you," says Liebesman. "And if you somehow manage to get away, she won't stop until she gets you."

Matilda is a force of darkness and cannot exist in the light. Since she strikes under the cover of night, no one is really sure whether she exists or is merely the figment of an overactive imagination.

The tension between what is real and what is imagined ? and how the two frighteningly converge ? is the taut thread Liebesman uses to raise audience hackles. Contrary to the recent trend in horror movies spoofing other films in the genre Liebesman's desire was "to play it straight," he says. "When you camp it up, people don't get involved. I wanted to use mood and atmosphere to plumb beneath the surface and tap into people's real fears."

Producer William Sherak echoes that sentiment. "We weren't out to make a teen-slasher film where the audience is so far ahead of the characters that they can sit back and feel safe," says Sherak. "This is definitely meant to be edge-of-your-seat time."

For the central character of Kyle, whose life has been overshadowed by fear and trauma, Liebesman was looking for "someone who looked like he had lived, someone with the qualities of a young Clint Eastwood or Mel Gibson," he says. "I didn't want an actor who brought too much baggage or past association to the role. He had to look like a real person and, at the same time, be a good enough actor to suggest the character might possibly be unstable (echoes of Gibson in the original Lethal Weapon or Eastwood in Play Misty for Me) so the audience could be invested in him."

He found that actor in Chaney Kley, who hails from the Chicago stage and is making his film debut in Darkness Falls. "Because he's such a strong presence and so down to earth, Chaney was able to convey that Kyle might have a split-personality, which immediately gives the story an element of suspense," says Liebesman.

"My approach was to show the conflict inside the character," says Kley, "between something he thinks may be real or might just be in his imagination. "Kyle is a tortured soul who hasn't had much sleep in the past twelve years and spent most of that time battling his demons. Everyone else thinks he's mentally unbalanced. And he's not so sure they're wrong. Ironically, he turns out to be the sanest person in the movie."

The pivotal character of Caitlin represented the film's emotional center. "She's the warmth and true vulnerability in the movie," says Liebesman. For Caitlin he turned to Emma Caulfield, best known to audiences as Anya in the phenomenally popular series "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." "On a dramatic level Emma starts out dealing with issues about her brother's mental health and, by the end of the film, turns into an action heroine as well."

Caitlin takes care of her nine-year-old brother Michael, who is plagued by the same nightmares and bouts of insomnia that torture Kyle. "Cailtin is strong and resilient, though it takes her some time realize it," says Caulfield. "And that gives her the ability to take care of her brother as well as seek help from Kyle, whom everyone else thinks is dangerous and disturbed."

By far the biggest casting challenge was the role of Michael, which required, "a 45-year-old man in a nine-year-old kid's body, someone with a real sense of torment," says Liebesman. After extensive auditions in the Melbourne, Australia area, the director found his man-child in actor Lee Cormie.

"Lee is amazing," says producer Jason Shuman. "The key is his eyes. They light up on fire when he's scared."

Unlike Kyle's character, Michael knows that his fear is based in reality. "The doctors think he's just afraid of the dark," says Cormie. "But he sees 'the Tooth Fairy.' He knows all about it and that it doesn't like the light. That's why he wants to keep the lights on."

The character of Michael serves as a catalyst for the action, according to Liebesman. "Michael is like a mirror image of Kyle. When Kyle comes back to town to save Michael from the hellish life he's experienced, he does it to redeem his own life as well."

Another major character required no casting call at all. "The darkness in this film isn't just a mood thing, it's really the antagonist," says Liebesman. "It has its own personality."

And it is from the dark that Matilda Dixon finally emerges. As with all great monsters (the creature in Alien, the shark in Jaws) however, throughout most of the film Liebesman chooses to show Matilda only in flashes and shadows that punctuate the darkness. "I didn't want her to be seen too much because the audience loses its fear when it begins to understand what it's supposed to be afraid of," he says. "It's when you keep it away from the audience for as long as possible that their imagination starts to go crazy. So I deliberately held her back (as much as possible), so that when the payoff comes, the excitement and satisfaction are that much greater."

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