Dir. Jonathan Liebesman; writ. Joseph Harris; feat. Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Lee Cormie (PG-13)

On the surface, Darkness Falls is an impotent failure of a movie, a 70-minute showcase of Hollywood at its most formulaic, acting and screenwriting at its most lobotomized, and the horror genre at its most crassly diluted. On another, more subtle level, however, it serves as a ringing endorsement of the electrician's humble trade and might someday be shown in technical colleges everywhere to impress upon young students the importance of their too-often marginalized career-to-be. In the town for which this film is named, lamps and streetlights flicker and burn out on a regular basis, an unfortunate fact of life for its citizenry not simply because of the obvious inconvenience, but because of the murderous wraith that swoops down out of the ether to dispatch secondary characters whenever a spasm of Joules shorts a filament or a newly purchased flashlight goes inexplicably dead. The film's underlying message? Slipshod wiring is not to be taken lightly.

The story centers on Kyle Walsh as he returns to his hometown at the request of his childhood sweetheart, Caitlin. The pair must confront and conquer the burgh's resident hellspawn, the spirit of Melinda "The Tooth Fairy" Dixon. Since being lynched over a century ago for a crime she didn't commit, Melinda has been working through her deep-seated resentment by killing scores of children, a hypocritical response to say the least.

In the right filmmaking hands, Dixon's M.O. (striking on the night the doomed youth loses his or her last baby tooth) might have served as a metaphor for the often frightening transition from prepubesence to adolescence. As it is, though, numbing CGI effects, multiple car chases, and exploding lighthouses leave little room for anything that doesn't quickly and effectively pander to a teenage attention span.

Exploiting Melinda's Achillies heel, light, is the crux of the non-existent drama that follows. Few are able to, of course, and many die, the script denying its victims the slightest modicum of common sense or logic. In the meanwhile, our tortured "hero" grunts through exasperating dialogue and evinces cardboard attitude stolen from better movies and obviously beyond his dramatic range. Emma Caulfield, the only recognizable actor of the bunch, does what she can and outshines the rest (which isn't saying much), but ultimately offers nothing that might redeem the effort and its nonsensical tale of a dentistry-minded ghost.

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