REVIEW: Dark Places

7 08 2015

Dark PlacesDark Places,” the latest cinematic adaptation of novelist Gillian Flynn, provides a similar ride to her smash hit “Gone Girl” on a smaller and slower scale.  Satisfactory yet not sensational, it will play just fine for the shut-in cinephile looking for a modest recreation of Fincher’s phenomenal film.

Like “Gone Girl,” “Dark Places” shuffles back and forth between two timelines.  The first takes place in the present day, where Charlize Theron’s Libby Day grapples with a little bit of survivor’s remorse but far more money issues.  The second, set in 1985, depicts the infamous events that gave her fifteen minutes of fame: the slaughter of her mother and two sisters.  Her good-natured but incorrigible brother, Ben, takes the rap for the crime.

Arguably, there are more balls in play during “Dark Places.”  The present day story centers on Libby almost exclusively as she begins to question her recollection of the murders and her testimony that put Ben behind bars.  Her quest to re-examine the truth comes after honest probing – and cash bribing – by Nicholas Hoult’s Lyle, a fanatical devotee of the case’s minutiae.

Meanwhile, on the Day’s rural turf, the film follows more than just Ben (Tye Sheridan) as he gallivants between some Satanist burnouts and his ill-tempered girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz).  It also shows the travails of the embattled matriarch, Christina Hendricks’ Patty, as she fights tooth and nail to preserve her family’s dignity and land.

Dark Places - Hoult Theron

“Dark Places” never lacks in plot points, so credit screenwriter and director Gilles Paquet-Brenner simply for not inducing motion sickness.  His film never moves quite as lithely as “Gone Girl,” but neither did “Dark Places” on the page.  He does a fine job maintaining tension and suspense throughout.

Paquet-Brenner gives his actors plenty of space to shine, particularly Theron, who turns in typically solid work with her internalized portrait of a tormented soul.  Too bad he could not find more time in the edit for Hoult’s Lyle, by far the most interesting character in the mix.  Lyle acts as the treasurer for a group called the “Kill Club,” which obsesses over true crime stories and potential miscarriages of justice.  When I read “Dark Places” in summer 2014, I thought the idea seemed absurd.  But watching the film and remembering the smashing success of the podcast “Serial,” the group makes so much more sense.

“Dark Places” offers a cursory explanation of why Lyle cares so deeply about the Day murders, but it hardly feels satisfying. Whether or not it exists in the story, Hoult acts out the fascination from someplace deeper within the psyche. Perhaps Lyle is some kind of stand-in for the audience, which itself devours the details of a juicy crime story and getting emotionally invested for no great reason.  Maybe the film is the scene of the crime: Lyle was robbed of valuable screen time, and like him, I just want to know more about why that egregious occurrence happened.  B / 2halfstars

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2 responses

8 08 2015
The Vern

You didn’t spoil this did you, Look I saw Gone Girl mainly because of Fincher’s name but it didn’t get me hooked on Flynn’s other works. Unlike Fight Club did with Chuck Palahniuk. The adaptation of Choke was OK, but the book was way better and that is how I feel will happen with this movie. I like Theron and Hendricks so I will check this out.

8 08 2015
Marshall

No spoilers here! And, hey, 9 times out of 10, the movie pales in comparison to the book. I rarely hold it against a film if it falls short of the novel.

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