“The truly frightening flaw in humanity is our capacity for cruelty - we all have it.”
I have a soft spot for mystery films where the audience is kept in suspense and has to try to figure out who committed the crime. Dark Places is such a film. What drew me to this film however wasn’t the genre nor the fact that Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult were going to be in this movie together again after their success in Fury Road, but that the screenplay was adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. Gone Girl was one of my favorite films of 2014 and I loved Fincher’s direction in that film, but above all I thought the screenplay was the best that year. Dark Places was written prior to Gone Girl, and there aren’t as many twists here, but the story still manages to captivate you and leave you in suspense. Dark Places was directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) and he also adapted the screenplay. The film is flawed and the voice over narration doesn’t work at all, but the story is what kept me interested along with the strong cast. The cinematography is dark and it helps build the overall atmosphere of the movie as the story jumps back and forth from past (a day in 1985 when a horrible crime was committed) to present. The ending was a bit of a letdown, but I enjoyed the fact that I was continuously guessing who the murderer might be up to the final act.
Libby Day (Charlize Theron) was only seven when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered in their Kansas farmhouse. She managed to escape and all signs seemed to indicate that her brother Ben (Tye Sheridan) was the murderer. She even testified in court that her brother was responsible, and now 25 years later she continues to be haunted by her past. She’s lived off the life insurance money and donations that many caring people have donated to her, but that money is all gone now and her depression hasn’t allowed her to move on with her life. When a young man named Lyle (Nicholas Hoult) offers her some money to come visit their club, “The Kill Club” she decides to go. They explain to Libby that they are a group of amateur investigators who like to explore unsolved cases. They are convinced her brother is innocent and they offer her more money to begin investigating what happened that tragic night. It’s not easy for Libby to revisit these dark memories of her past which have haunted her, but she begins by visiting her brother in prison (now played by Corey Stoll). He reminds her of some events that took place during that time and as she begins to investigate we are introduced to several flashbacks of what actually happened. Libby’s mother is played by Christina Hendricks, her father by Sean Bridgers, while Chloe Grace Moretz plays Ben’s love interest during the flashback scenes.
This is a strong cast for a film directed by a relatively unknown director, but considering Gone Girl was such a success I’m sure they were all excited about being a part of this film. Tye Sheridan and Chloe Grace Moretz are two of my favorite young teen actors working today. Unfortunately they don’t get much to do with their characters here. The stand out for me was Christina Hendricks who delivers a solid performance as this single mother of four who is trying her best to keep up float. Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are also solid, but their performance doesn’t even come close to what they did in Fury Road. The flashback scenes were the highlight of the movie for me, and I didn’t care too much for the present investigation so that might be a reason why I wasn’t blown away by either of Theron or Hoult’s performances. Dark Places isn’t as tightly constructed as Gone Girl and the characters aren’t as interesting, but the mystery still had me engaged during most of the film’s running time. In a better director’s hand this film could’ve been great, but it still managed to be slightly entertaining.