Is Dark Places This Year’s Gone Girl?


Apart from a relatively unknown director in Gilles Paquet-Brenner, Dark Places is all set up to be this year’s Gone Girl.  It is based on a novel by Gone Girl author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and it sports a very impressive cast consisting of Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury RoadX-Men), Christina Hendricks (Firefly, Mad Men), Chloë Grace Moretz (EqualizerClouds of Sils Maria), Tye Sheridan (MudJoeThe Stanford Prison Experiment), and Corey Stoll (Ant-Man, The Bourne Legacy).

Like Gone GirlDark Places seeks to show the audience a crime.  In Gone Girl, it is the disappearance of a man’s wife and how all of the evidence points to his guilt.  In Dark Places, we see the horrific murder of a family with the blame falling on the oldest son after the testimony of a younger sister.  The similar theme in both of Gillian Flynn’s stories are the unfolding of the events where flashbacks begin to provide the true facts, despite the evidence presented initially.

Nicholas Hoult plays Lyle Worth, a Kansas City entrepreneur who heads up a “kill club”, which is a group of people fascinated with true crimes. His group is convinced that Ben Day’s (Corey Stoll and Tye Sheridan as the older and younger Ben respectively) guilt is not accurate despite his 28 years behind bars without ever appealing the guilty verdict.

They contact his sister Libby Day (Charlize Theron) who has been living off the money generated by being a nationally known case since she was 8 years old and who needs the cash to help them revisit the case.  She wants nothing to do with the man who she believes ruined her life, but needing the cash addresses the “kill club” and begins to wrestle with the memories she has tried to repress.

On the surface, this should be a tense thriller.  Amazingly, director Gilles Paquet-Brenner stifles the narrative tension, the strong performances from the very talented cast, and creates a story that simply pulls you to the finish line.  Theron’s Libby is a haunted soul and she is up for the challenge, but she is given little room to fully explorer the effects of these events other than brief glimpses of apathy, alcoholism, and more.

Tye Sheridan continues to shine and it is his performance that provides the best misdirection throughout the film.  By jumping back and forth between 2015 and 1985, the story is able to deal with two very different times, especially in how crime was investigated and how convictions were achieved.  Those who remember the 1980’s will instantly identify with the 1980’s struggle with rock music and kids dabbling in the occult.

Satanic sacrifices, Misfits t-shirts, and the war on drugs were center stage, and Flynn taps into this cultural phenomenon wonderfully and Sheridan and Moretz in particular capture this darker side of the teen culture.  When the film bounces back to see the characters nearly 30 years later, the tension is gone and we see the director struggling to connect the tension from these two separate narrative threads.

Despite all of the strength of the cast and the story on the screen, it ultimately can’t come out of theDark Places and into the light of day.  It struggles to keep you engaged. This film will fail to find the audience, or the critical acclaim that Flynn’s other project, last year’s Gone Girl, was able to achieve.  Given its initial pedigree, this film should have been so much more.