Super Dark Times (2017)
Written by Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski
Directed by Kevin Phillips
New York’s Hudson Valley in 1996 is the setting for this story of a deadly accident and the eventual breakdown of the teenagers who caused it. Zach and Josh are standard bored out of their mind teenagers, regularly unsupervised which allows them to get into a moderate amount of trouble. While hanging out with obnoxious classmate Daryl, the accident as mentioned above occurs and leaves the two friends scrambling. They fail to support each other, and as a result, the guilt slowly overtakes them leading to a horrifying climax.
Super Dark Times is a film that is massively “style over substance,” yet that is perfectly fine. The story being told here isn’t anything exceptionally new or different, I was reminded of River’s Edge and Mean Creek when it comes to plot. What sets the film apart is the exceptional mood building by director Kevin Phillips. Phillips has manned the cameras on numerous music videos including work for Childish Gambino and Neon Indian. This is displayed from the opening prologue as the camera wordlessly tells us the story of a deer who makes a fatal mistake and ends up on the floor of the high school cafeteria in the early hours of the morning. The only dialogue is whispered between two police officers and barely audible. Everything else is communicated through the lens and Phillips direction.
That opening also introduces to Allison, a character who will end up being incredibly important to the film and acts as the bookend for the entire piece. Capping Zach and Josh’s story is the opening prologue concerning the deer with Allison looking on and the epilogue where Allison has taken the deer’s place yet come to a very different conclusion. The theme of the piece made clear through her eyes is about the loss of innocence. She witnesses the adults take on the weight of a mercy killing at the start of the movie and by the end has had an up-close experience with violence and death in her own life. In another scene where she isn’t present, Josh ogles over her picture in the yearbook talking about the sexual acts he would perform on her. This draws the ire of Zach and from this simple interaction comes to a tense conflict that unfolds itself over the course of the story.
The mid to late 1990s were a time of increased tension and violence in American high schools. Full disclosure, I was homeschooled during my primary and secondary education, so I never felt the total emotional impact of the shootings that took place during that period. However, I can empathize with how fraught with worry and anxiety so many students, and adults must have felt. The violence of places like Columbine was seemingly so sudden, and without warning, it must have led to incredible stress on the minds of so many. Super Dark Times infuses its frames with that same sense of dread. The days are always overcast; the film is set in winter. The lighting is always muted, particularly in a disturbing dream sequence of Zach’s where he confronted with what he and Zach have done. The conclusion of the film does slip into some melodrama which took me slightly out of the flow, but overall this an excellent, meditative and moody picture.