Plot (courtesy of IMDB): Libby Day was only eight years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Almost thirty years later, she reluctantly agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night.
**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
With the advent of David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel “Gone Girl”, I was beginning to see the light, so to speak, with atmospheric modern thrillers; to me, they were just getting better and better as each year passed. But then we hit 2015, and that sparkle begins to fade out slightly. And frustratingly enough, right as the quality and craftsmanship of said films were just about to reach their apex.
Now, that’s not to say “Dark Places” is the absolute pit of despair when it comes to the quality of these movies, but goddammit if this movie didn’t really frustrate me in places. First, and foremost, I should get my rant about the plot, twists, and the characters over with. One of the first things to frustrate me almost to an extreme level was how they made the character of Ben be a “satanist”. Of course, they good girl/good boy gone bad character of these sorts of films are almost always written as a satanist, or a suspected satanist and are judged accordingly by the other characters. It’s not that I have a problem with the writers using this as a plot point, as sometimes it may work out well with enough good writing to back it up, but a lot of the time (such as with Ben) it just backfires almost immediately. And a lot of the times, such as with this film, it’s just another useless plot point. I mean, why is he or she a satanist or why do other characters think they are a satanist, how is that going to change his or her life for the better or worse, is it going to affect their day to day life or their actions? These are the types of questions that need to be addressed, I think, somewhere within the timespan of the film in question if such a big, and often times controversial, character trait is used. But when someone takes the easy way out and just slaps a character trait on a main character like that in such a lazy manner and then goes absolutely nowhere with it, just uses the most basic and cliched outline of what we think that character may be like, and just adds it as an aspect of the film for plot filler they just end up downgrading the overall quality of the film, if the writing isn’t strong enough. Of course, I’m using satanism as an example for my rant about how writers should completely follow through with character traits of that nature, but it could be applied to a number of different things; I’m just using it here as it encompasses a great deal of the plot and twists of this movie.
That’s another thing about this movie that did not work: the plot twists. A movie as dark and melancholic as this should have some twists throughout that really blow the viewer away, but what we’re left with is some very obvious, cliche ridden, and half-baked story elements that add nothing to the movie. I easily figured out almost from the very beginning when the film really gets set in motion that Ben wasn’t the killer, and I wouldn’t have been that let down by that fact if the way the rest of the story was handled was at least in some way compelling. Throughout the pretty much the entirety of the film Libby is going through the typical motions of someone in a film’s world would if not given the proper written treatment; i.e. what this entire rant is about, this movie basically takes the easy way out in terms of developing its characters over the course of the plot. Very few of the scenes in this movie were even half-way, remotely believable. I mean, sure, without proper answers to explain what really happened the night her family was murdered Libby would be absolutely skeptical and not trusting towards Ben, because if you look at it from her position it certainly looks like Ben is the murderer, but I don’t know how she could still believe he did it when presented with clear and concise theories on what happened by The Kill Club. Of course i’m not expecting Libby to not still be angry with Ben at what happened as she was just a little girl when all this happened and it completely ruined her emotionally, mentally, and just in general fucked up her entire life in a lot of ways but I really think she should have taken a more deeper look into the evidence to the case being brought up by the aforementioned Kill Club if she was truly searching for answers, as it would’ve proven that Ben was innocent. I’m not defending him completely of course as he knew all this the entire time, knew what really happened, and didn’t really try hard enough to reach out to Libby and attempt to give her some peace of mind by telling her exactly how everything went down . It’s huge holes in logic like that that really drag the quality of a good story down.
It may seem, however, by the length of that incoherent and bizarre rant above that I really loathed this movie with a passion, which is not the truth at all. While I found the bad excuses for twists lame, the underdeveloped characters frustrating, and the barrage of cliches typical of this genre annoying, there were plenty of things I did genuinely like about this movie. For one, I really loved the story. The story was gripping and tension-soaked, and this movie really could’ve been a truly great film if it wasn’t for the problems I listed above. I’ve honestly never read Gillian Flynn’s work before, but seeing how much I loved “Gone Girl” and really was intrigued by the plot of this film I’d probably really love her work. What I really loved about the story however, and it’s basically the same thing I loved so much about Gone Girl’s story, is how perfectly it blends various tones and moods to create a realistic world. Even if the characters of “Dark Places” aren’t developed all the way or well, one thing I can say is Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s stylishly dour direction and Barry Ackroyd’s well-lit, copacetically dreary cinematography make you feel as if you were looking through the scrapbook of a serial killer or madman – which is the best look and feel for this film in terms of correctly expressing the dark story and the characters who inhabit it through well orchestrated shots and a smartly somber color palette.
As far as the acting aspect of this film goes, the performances – while usually pretty good, can at times be a mixed bag due to how uneven and undeveloped this film is at times. At the very center we have Charlize Theron turning in a typically excellent performance, however at times when the film’s quality seems to dip she has no clear shame in hamming it up to fit the material; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, actually it’s not a bad thing at all but in certain points of the film she does seem a bit miscast. Though, in retrospect, the casting of Theron as the older Libby added a certain ingredient to this film it was most definitely missing. Corey Stoll, when given the proper amount of screen-time during pivotal scenes, is both disturbing and electrifying as the older Ben Day, which certainly wasn’t surprising considering how great he was in his portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s 2011 film “Midnight In Paris”. The performance to be on the lookout for in this film, however, is Tye Sheridan’s mesmerizing performance of young, detached Ben Day – debuting in “The Tree of Life” and turning in monumentally great performances in “Joe” and “Mud”, I can certainly say i’m making a safe bet that one of these days down the line Sheridan will be winning an Oscar and if he continues giving such brilliant performances I can pretty much guarantee it.
In conclusion, considering how much I loved “Gone Girl” I was extremely disappointed that this is how this film turned out, given the fact that the story had some real promise. The performances are pretty good and the look and feel of this movie more than compliment the story, however this is just yet another example of how a thriller can be purely well designed style over having well thought out twists and character development that isn’t entirely riddled with cliches and hackneyed ideas lifted from other better, more well made movies. That’s not to say this is one of the worst thrillers in years, however it’s very far from being one I could recommend to people. See “Gone Girl” instead.
My rating: 5/10