PrintE-mail Written by Ryan Pollard

Based on the bifurcated novel by Gillian Flynn (known for writing the excellent Gone Girl), Dark Places is about Libby Day, the sole survivor of a home invasion where she famously witnessed the death of her mother and sisters, and testified against her brother, Ben, who was sentenced to life in prison since she believed him to be the murderer. Twenty-five years later, Libby gets drafted into The Kill Club, a group run by true-crime enthusiasts, all of which convinces her to re-examine the events of that night. As new memories and old suspects flood back into her life, Libby begins to question her own testimony and sets out to discover the truth of her tragic past.

Whatever way you look at it, Gone Girl changed the face of psychological crime thrillers and was all the better for it, which makes all the more upsetting as Dark Places was a relative disappointment in comparison. Despite the fact that all the essential ingredients were there in order to make this a film worth talking about (serial killings, satanic cults, true-crime obsessives, and twisted family secrets), the mystery itself was convoluted, leaving you clueless as to which person was who, and the ultimate truth as to what really happened made no sense whatsoever and felt as utterly contrived as the ending of Broadchurch’s lacklustre second season. 

In the hands of lightweight director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the end product looks surprisingly tame as a result. She lacks the hard-edged forensic-like approach that David Fincher brought to Flynn’s Gone Girl, plus her adapted screenplay lacks the cohesion and sophistication Flynn had when adapting her own novel into a screenplay. Also, by making everyone in the state of Kansas shifty or burdening a dark secret in order to create red herrings made it felt like Flynn or Paquet-Brenner were over-egging the pudding somewhat. It’s like as if the film was saying that everyone is damaged and broken in their own special ways.

That’s not to say that the film is not atmospheric or creepy, because whilst the story doesn’t completely work, it does a good job of creating dramatic atmosphere and tension, and that’s all down to DP Barry Ackroyd, who also shot both The Hurt Locker and Captain Phillips. Also, there are some strong performances from most the cast involved: after stealing the show in Mad Max: Fury Road as Imperator Furiosa, Charlize Theron once again plays a strong, yet damaged heroine with a dark past, and like in Mad Max, she dominates the screen with her steely determination and underpinning vulnerability to go with it. Likewise, Chloë Grace Moretz is also magnetic as the psychotically unhinged and manipulative teenage rebel, which goes to show that she has come a long way since her light and cheery days in Kick-Ass and Hugo all those years ago. Plus, Christina Hendricks always adds a touch of dramatic gravitas as the troubled mother who is desperately trying to give her children a good life.

In the end, despite its ambition to stand alongside Gone Girl as a worthy equal, Dark Places only ends up being a disappointingly average movie as a result with a lacklustre script and tame direction. It is fun in short bursts, has strong performances to boot and atmospheric cinematography, but this is just a missed opportunity that only deserves a rental or television viewing at best.



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