Dark Places (2015)
Written & Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner
In 1985, a brutal murder occurred in Kinnakee, Kansas. The culprit appeared to Ben Day; the victims are his mother and two of his sisters. Little sister Libby Day survives and goes on to testify that she saw Ben committing these acts. Jump to present day, Libby has squandered the last of the money she got from her book about the events and the goodwill of people who have heard her story has dried up. She is approached by Lyle, a member of the Kill Club, a group of amateurs that takes murder cases and reopens them to try to solve them. They believe Ben is innocent though he’s never appealed his life sentence. Libby is skeptical but eventually agrees to pursue their leads and uncovers the secrets of those final days of her childhood innocence.
I enjoyed Gone Girl, another film based on a work by author Gillian Flynn. She also wrote the screenplay for that film. Plus, you had the masterful David Fincher directing Gone Girl. Those two factors highlight why Dark Places is such a colossal failure of a movie. Dark Places has a cast of solid actors: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Corey Stoll, Christina Hendricks. So it comes down to the writer-director being at fault. I have never seen anything by Brenner, but after watching this picture, I have no enthusiasm to seek out more.
One of the most significant problems with Dark Places is the poor writing of dialogue and the pacing of the film. I suspect where Flynn understood that Gone Girl the novel needed lots of work to be adapted, Brenner was trying way too hard to adhere to the pacing of the Dark Places novel. The decision to jump back and forth in time in the manner Brenner employs it ends up just confusing the plot. Characters pop up for the first time in a scene without an introduction of any kind and then suddenly become important. You hear names of characters dropped, and half the movie later realize that was a nickname for someone you’d seen on screen the whole time, adding to the confusion.
My wife is a big fan of Gillian Flynn and during our viewing of Dark Places looked visibly annoyed and put off. She even remarked that watching the movie made her think back on the novel as being cheesy and terrible. That’s how bad this adaptation is; it contextualizes the events the source material so that they appear worse. It’s also a testament to the power of good writing and directing when you see Charlize Theron coming off stiff and unconvincing. I’m going to assume the heat of Gone Girl’s success is what brought in some of these actors to this project.
The big twist/showdown moment plays so goofily I found myself cracking up. The way the story plays out is relatively predictable, and I even guess at what was going on about halfway into the film. There is a line delivered in the first act that I immediately knew was a detail that would come back into the story and end up being the answer to the whole mystery. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, I would advise you stay far away from this incredible misstep of filmmaking.