Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)
“In 1985, her entire family was murdered. 30 years later, the truth emerges.”
Dark Places (2015)
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks
Synopsis: Thirty years after most of her family were murdered, a troubled woman revisits the events to find out whether the brother who was imprisoned for the crime is truly innocent.
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Dark Places is a perfect example of a decent novel becoming a movie so poor that even its production company appears to give up on it before its release. Despite having A-lister Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) leading a talented cast, the movie was initially available on the internet before receiving a limited release in the States which earned a paltry $208,000. Surprisingly, Theron turns out to be one of the problems. She’s a decent enough actress, and gets the sullen and moody side to her character about right, but she simply looks too good for someone carrying around the crippling and traumatic psychological legacy of a horrific incident that has shaped her life for the past thirty years. That might sound shallow, but we’re conditioned to seeing characters like that bear physical scars that are symbolic of the psychological ones; they often use drugs or booze, cigarettes or food to help them cope, and they looked lived in as a result. Theron just looks like what she is: a good-looking multi-millionaire pretending to be a penniless loner.
Her name is Libby Day, and when she was 7-years-old she survived an encounter with the intruder who broke into her home one night and murdered her mother and two sisters. As far as the authorities were concerned, the obvious suspect was her troubled older brother, Ben (Tye Sheridan – The Forger), and although she didn’t witness any of the murders, little Libby’s evidence was enough to help put her brother away for them. Thirty years later, and he’s still inside while Libby continues to suffer from the psychological fall-out; she’s depressed and anti-social, and lives on the charitable handouts from a generous few who still recall the slayings. But time passes, crime makes orphans of other young victims, and the finance has now all but dried up. Libby’s so desperate for money that she reluctantly agrees to a request from Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), a member of The Kill Club, an eccentric group investigating old crimes they believe might have resulted in miscarriages of justice, that she revisit the events of the fateful night in the hope of proving Ben’s innocence.
The plot of Dark Places isn’t so much convoluted as… uncontained; it spreads like a viscous liquid in all directions as it jumps back and forth between the present day and 1985. A number of suspects are put forward, none of whom really have a compelling reason to commit wholesale slaughter. Libby’s no-good father (Sean Bridgers – Midnight Special), who came sniffing around for a handout just before the killings, is one; he’s now a down-and-out, living, a little too symbolically, in a vat in an abandoned toxic plant, and is quickly discarded. Then there’s Trey Teepano, the vaguely intimidating kid (Shannon Kook – The Conjuring, A Christmas Horror Story) who’s friends with Ben’s sexy but flakey pregnant girlfriend, Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz – Carrie, The Equalizer) both of whom like to slaughter cows to show their devotion to Satan.
Writer-director Paquet-Brenner’s shapeless screenplay provides clues that are intended to deepen the mystery, but which instead provide rather obvious pointers to at least one of the culprits. Each fresh plot twist raises questions that the screenplay is unable to answer, while providing character motivations that make little sense before arriving at a wholly unsatisfying conclusion.
(Reviewed 1st September 2016)