Starring Charlize Theron, Sterling Jerins, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Tye Sheridan, Corey Stoll, Chloë Grace Moretz, Drea de Matteo
The second novel to be adapted from Oscar nominated writer Gillian Flynn, Dark Places initially had a lot going for it after the success of Gone Girl. Flynn however did not pen the screenplay for this one, instead writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) took up that responsibility. Even with a terrific cast, Dark Places lacks everything that was so fascinating about Gone Girl, David Fincher elevated that story beyond just a suspenseful crime drama, while this one feels more like a TV MA Lifetime movie. Flynn clearly knows how to create engaging subject matter and the twisted unsolved murder mystery here will keep the audience sustained if only to get the “whodunit” answer.
8-year-old Libby Day survived what would become known as the Kansas Prairie Massacre. 30 years later Libby (Theron) has used up all the money from novels based on her experiences and charitable donations, she has done nothing with her life but numb the ongoing pain. She accused her 16-year-old brother Ben (Sheridan) of the murders and due to his involvement in local Satan worshiping, the jury was all too happy to send him to prison. Now a group of crime solvers called the Kill Club want to pay Libby to assist in pouring over files to prove Ben’s innocence. For the first time in her life, Libby must face the ghosts of the pasts and her own memory to discover what really happen that night.
Theron’s moodiness seems the right choice for the role, but there isn’t much to the performance.
Dark Places the film seems to draw inspirations from Capote or The Texas Killing Fields, never shying away from brutality or desperate people in desperate situations. The story never presents the viewer with a likeable character, mostly because it holds tight to the secrets each character clings to. This is the second time Theron and Hoult appear on screen together, their roles in this summer’s Mad Max were far more intriguing. Theron’s moodiness seems the right choice for the role, but there isn’t much to the performance. It’s how the script gets Libby to face her brother in prison or the desperate motives behind Patty Day’s choice for her children that make Dark Places feel contrived and secondary.
What I imagine worked better in the novel, almost single handedly destroys the film adaptation, which is the inclusion of so many characters. What could have been, ‘everyone is a suspect’, instead turns into everyone is an obstacle. Unlike Gone Girl where Flynn’s own adaptation of her characters seemed to explain major and minor characters motives, here the supporting players don’t carry much weight. Theron is no stranger to dark and disturbing material, but the Oscar winning actress looks bored in the role of Libby. Another problem the film has is asking the audience to imagine Sheridan (Mud) would mature into Stoll (Ant-Man), or Moretz (If I Stay) into Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos). We are left only wondering what Fincher could have done with this script.
Suspenseful thanks to Flynn’s novel, but cinematically never connects in the adaptation.