Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Disturbing Violence, Language, Drug Use and Sexual Content
Directed by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Written by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
(based on the novel DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn)
Staring: Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult, Andrea Roth, Corey Stoll, Sterling Jerins, Chloe Grace Moretz & Tye Sheridan
GONE GIRL was one of my favorite films of 2014. Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel is an intense thriller with great characters, brilliant writing, and it only gets better with repeat viewings. Seeing as I loved that movie, I was pretty excited for DARK PLACES (which is also based on a novel by Flynn). However, there were a few signs that this might not be nearly as good as GONE GIRL way in advance. Namely, other countries were receiving this film months before us and the production values didn’t look that great. While it’s nowhere near as good as Fincher’s Flynn adaptation, DARK PLACES is a suspenseful flick that should satisfy thriller-hungry adults to a certain point. There are pros and cons in this film. The pros outweigh the cons, but the cons are distracting enough to weigh this movie down as a whole (more on that in a moment).
Libby Day had a rough childhood. When I say rough childhood, I mean that she was the sole survivor of her brother’s massacre that took the lives of the her mother and sisters. Libby has lived on donations from strangers for years and her funds are now running out. Traumatized by her past and not wanting to necessarily get a career, Libby takes an offer from the mysterious Kill Club. This Kill Club is full of morbidly curious amateur investigators obsessed with notorious true crime cases. They believe that the massacre Libby survived isn’t necessarily as cut-and-dried as it was made out to be. Thus, Libby is forced to dive headlong into her disturbing past to piece together what exactly happened at her Kansas farmhouse on that fateful night. Not everything is as it appears and Libby finds that her path is taking her to some dangerous, dark places (see what I did there?).
The first thing that really stuck out of this film for me were the performances. Charlize Theron plays a damaged character who initially seems unlikable (in spite of her tragic past) and turns into someone worth rooting for. She might have a bad attitude towards everyone around her, but her hardened outer shell occasionally cracks to show that she’s still a scared little girl inside. In flashback scenes, Christina Hendricks plays Libby’s mother as a broken woman doing her very best to keep the family together. Also present in these flashbacks are Chloe Grace Moretz and Tye Sheridan who have been given their most mature roles yet. Moretz especially gives a darker, dirtier performance that’s different from anything I’ve seen her play before. Though he’s in a minor role, Corey Stoll plays Libby’s brother. His character is a wild card, but the performance is rock solid. Stoll continues to impress me with every film I see him in and his work is no different here. Nicholas Hoult actually becomes the most annoying part of this film, but I don’t think that’s entirely on his shoulders. Instead, his character (a main member of the Kill Club) just seems poorly written and mainly serves as a plot device.
There’s a creepy atmosphere hovering over DARK PLACES. The cinematography might not always look great (with a cheap grainy effect in some of Libby’s memories), but I could feel a rising amount of tension as Libby’s investigation went into more complex, twisted areas. The non-linear storytelling (sort of like the first half of GONE GIRL) keeps you on your toes as to where things might head next. The decision to show past events in flashbacks as opposed to just have a film full of talking heads was a wise move too. The script manages to highlight themes of extreme poverty and the Satanic Panic era during the 80’s flashbacks as well. In fact, both of these things make for an integral plot points. I do wish that the Satan-worshipping angle was a tad less cheesy in its execution, but there are definite eerie moments. Also, I wish the film had spent more screen time with the actual Kill Club (who are arguably the most interesting part of this plot). I can only recall two (possibly three) memorable scenes that weren’t only featuring Hoult’s geeky character.
While the screenplay is interesting and creepy for a majority of the film, DARK PLACES really drops the ball in its ending. The final 30 minutes of this film take an intense, twisted mystery that we were watching and cap it off with far-fetched plot twists and a cop-out finale. These aren’t the only mediocre scenes in the film though. There are a couple of places where the movie becomes melodramatic, especially in the epilogue.
DARK PLACES is a decent enough time-killer, but I wouldn’t recommend spending too much money to see it. The film has a complex story that drops the ball with a cheap, unconvincing finale. While the tone is mostly disturbing and creepy, there are also moments where it feels like an above-average Lifetime movie-of-the-week. I like this film as a whole, but its problems weigh it down significantly (especially the silly ending). Overall, DARK PLACES is an okay crime thriller.