The creators of the Final Destination franchise understand that a threat is scarier when it can’t be seen—but that doesn’t stop them from littering their sets with creepities. Spooky spiders, weird dolls, and scary frickin’ clowns dot the landscape of Part 2 just as short-circuiting clocks and freak masks decorated the original, knee-jerking you into expecting bad things to happen even though there’s not a villain in sight.

Bad things do happen, of course. Final Destination 2’s framework is nearly identical to its predecessor’s: Kimberly (A.J. Cook) is driving her friends to Florida for a vacation when she has a premonition of a fiery wreck while about to get on the freeway. As she snaps to and starts seeing the chain of imagined events happening for real—bum at car window, “Highway to Hell” on radio (John Denver works only with plane crashes)—Kimberly pulls across an on-ramp and tells her friends what she saw while impatient drivers line up behind her. Seconds later, said fiery wreck occurs, and because Kimberly has stepped out of the car to talk to a police officer, she’s safe when an errant truck plows into her friends.

Both Final Destinations turn on the idea that if you interrupt “death’s design” by, say, showing up late for your date with destiny, your time is still imminent—and you’d better do something about that overloaded outlet. But whereas the first film knocked off the kids who left a doomed plane before takeoff in the order in which they would have died in the air, FD2 screws with the template to get a little more meta: Everyone who gets saved by Kimberly’s freakout on the road was in some way affected by the post-plane-crash deaths from a year earlier—for example, one woman didn’t make it to a hotel whose guests were suffocated by a faulty heating system because she was on the bus that ran over the first movie’s token blonde. These fateful connections are made for the audience with the help of Clear Rivers (a fully grown-up Ali Larter), the sole survivor of the first Final Destination, who is barely recognizable as one pissed-off mental patient who thinks it’s, like, so annoying that Death is making her hide out in a padded cell.

Despite the many scripters’ best efforts to be clever, though, the story eventually collapses under the weight of its own convolutions. Creepy mortician William (Tony Todd) returns to give cryptic advice about new life being the only thing capable of stopping death, which turns into a quest to find a pregnant woman who would have died in the crash and leads one character to yell, “We have to find her to tell her to stay away from the lake so she can stay alive long enough to have the baby!” Even if you’re initially along for the ride, the seriousness with which the characters deliver such lines will eventually have you rolling your eyes—as will Clear’s oft-repeated “What did you see!?!” (Kimberly, kind of lamely, has visions instead of figuring things out by herself, as her FD1 predecessor did.)

What FD2 manages brilliantly, however, is the buildup of tension. The fakeouts are frequent and often funny, such as the scene in which a marked adolescent watches wide-eyed from a dentist’s chair while a nitrous oxide tank malfunctions—leaving him unable to remove a colorful plastic fish that has fallen from the ceiling into his mouth. The kills are even more complicated than in the first installment, and each scene, regardless of whether casualties ensue, is set up to make an everyday situation look like a deathtrap. And though the gore is excessive, it’s most often effectively played for laughs: One victim manages to escape his apartment after his hand is caught in a garbage disposal, his microwave explodes, and an oil fire starts on his stove, only to be impaled by a malfunctioning fire-escape ladder—and he even has a couple of close-but-not-quite calls with that.

It should come as no surprise that director David R. Ellis has a longer resume as a stuntman than a filmmaker. Or that he’s wrong when he writes, “[T]he action isn’t carrying the film, the story is.” The sharper-written, self-parodic Scream series did the jokey-horror genre better. Still, the second chapter of Final Destination more than proves you don’t need a dude in a costume to scare the bejesus out of people.

For those who prefer their evil personified, meet the villain from Darkness Falls: A Frederique Krueger who looks part-bat, part-spider in the shadows of night and possesses one fine set of pipes. Her vocal talents fill the background with a variety of scary noises—sometimes catlike, more often ratlike, and with a touch of South Park’s pink Christina Aguilera bug thrown in for good measure. She comes after you in only the dark, and when she does, be prepared for the worst: For once she gets her claws in you, she…picks you up and drops you.

This source of horror, ladies and gentleman, is the Tooth Fairy.

Even if novelist Graham Joyce has proved that centering a modern-day horror story on a character whose name includes the word “Fairy” can be a good idea, the creators of Darkness ensure that their movie falls on its face from the very beginning. The film opens with a girl sneaking into a boy’s house and giving him a nice open-mouthed kiss, yet precedes that with a discussion of his losing a baby tooth. Young Caitlin is played by 14-year-old Emily Browning, and her expert lip-locking and post-kiss comment—”the first time shouldn’t taste like blood”—make her one worldly preteen. Thank God she doesn’t stick around to witness 10-year-old Kyle (Joshua Anderson) whine to his mother, “I peeked!” after he catches a glimpse of the bogeywoman. Cowards are such a turnoff.

Twelve years later, Kyle and Caitlin (now Chaney Kley and Emma Caulfield), who were separated when Kyle was put in a state hospital after his apparent murder of his mother, are reunited when Caitlin’s young sibling Michael (newcomer Lee Cormie) is hospitalized for lack of sleep, telling weird stories and refusing to stay in the dark. Troubled Kyle takes a break from pill-popping (a laughably flashy scene of his daily distribution—with quick zooms toward prescription labels reading, “FOR DEPRESSION” as death metal plays in the background—subtly lets us in on Kyle’s problems) to reassure Michael that the Tooth Fairy is bullshit—though he himself believes it can’t hurt to have a dozen flashlights within reach at all times.

Darkness relies on cheap scares to titillate, working standbys such as loud noises and tomcats jumping on car hoods when a future victim is behind the wheel. Though director Jonathan Liebesman could be credited with applying a light touch when it comes to showing his baddie, the decision was most likely made for less-than-commendable reasons: The thing looks absolutely ridiculous. And exactly how the Tooth Fairy kills is anyone’s guess: Always hovering near the ceiling, she lifts her victims and briefly thrashes them around before letting them fall to the floor.

At a slight 76 minutes—even kids’ films last longer nowadays—Darkness Falls is a quick-cutting mess of questions, with flashes of confusing action implying things too stupid (I mean scary) to look at. And Buffy the Vampire Slayer transplants Kley and Caulfield are utterly devoid of intensity—Kley in particular spectacularly mishandles such gimme lines as “Turn this car around now!” It doesn’t take long for even the easy frights to lose their bite, and as far as the central menace is concerned—well, let’s just say that some evil entities have faces made for radio. CP

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