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Dark Places Movie Review

Dark Places (2015) movie poster Dark Places

Theatrical Release: August 7, 2015 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner / Writers: Gillian Flynn (novel), Gilles Paquet-Brenner (screenplay)

Cast: Charlize Theron (Libby Day), Nicholas Hoult (Lyle Wirth), Chloλ Grace Moretz (Young Diondra Wertzner), Tye Sheridan (Young Ben Day), Sterling Jerins (Young Libby Day), Corey Stoll (Ben Day), Christina Hendricks (Patty Day), Andrea Rioth (Diondra Wertzner/Polly Palm), Sean Bridgers (Runner Day), J. LaRose (Trey Teepano), Shannon Kook (Young Trey Trepan), Jennifer Pierce Mathus (Diane), Natalie Precht (Michelle Day), Madison McGuire (Debby Day), Lori Z. Cordova (Magda), Denise Williamson (Crystal), Jeff Chase (Calvin Diehl), Drea de Matteo (Krissi Cates), Adrian "Addy" Miller (Young Krissi Cates), Laura Cayouette (Krissi Cates' Mother), Richard Gunn (Lou Cates), Michael Crabtree (Joseph), Glenn Morshower (Jim Jeffreys)


Last year, Gillian Flynn turned her third novel, Gone Girl, into one of the best films of 2014. This year, French filmmaker Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah's Key) adapts Flynn's second novel and the results aren't nearly as good. Dark Places mimics Gone Girl in design, bouncing from one point-of-view to another to solve a domestic mystery.
The crime in question -- the massacre of three-fifths of a Kansas household -- occurred thirty years ago and was officially solved shortly thereafter. Our protagonist, 37-year-old Libby Day (Charlize Theron) was a young survivor whose eyewitness testimony helped convict her big brother Ben (Corey Stoll) for the murders of their mother and two sisters.

Libby has not amounted to much. She is informed near the start of the movie that her available funds have dwindled down to triple digits. Her ghostwritten book on her family's tragedy is no longer selling, sympathy donations have slowed to a crawl, and she's never been one for steady income. It is these dire straits that inspire Libby to accept a strange proposal from young laundromat entrepreneur Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult) on behalf of the Kill Club, a group of true crime enthusiasts who study and try to solve crimes where doubt hangs over the official resolution. Lyle offers Libby several hundred dollars just to speak with and listen to these hobbyist detectives, though it soon becomes clear that they believe that Ben is innocent and are hoping to persuade Libby to recant her childhood testimony so the case can be reopened just three weeks before its evidence is to be destroyed.

Reluctantly and for a steep fee, Libby Day (Charlize Theron) makes herself accessible to Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult) and his Kill Club of hobbyist detectives.

Libby's mind is not open to believe her brother's innocence or the Kill Club's prevailing theory that her deadbeat pot-growing father (Sean Bridgers) is the real murderer. But she needs money and Lyle is not opposed to giving it to her, as she visits her brother in jail for the first time and starts doing her own detective work.

Our understanding of the family massacre develops, but doesn't necessarily change in our frequent trips back to 1985. Those flashbacks show us Ben (Mud's Tye Sheridan) a troubled Satan-worshipping teenager with questionable associates and some heinous accusations against him, while his mother (Christina Hendricks) struggles to prevent creditors from foreclosing on the family's rural home.

Whereas Gone Girl was fast-paced and arresting, Dark Places is dull and plodding. Any crime as sordid as the one being unraveled here is bound to generate some interest. But, somehow the relentlessly dreary tone and constant chronological leaps drain much of the intrigue from it. Dark Places is lifeless and endless and once it trots out twists with which it hopes to blow your mind, you'll be mad at taking its story seriously. Without spoiling anything, you'll just have to trust me at how ridiculous this mystery proves to be and, as a result, how unsatisfying solving it is. You get the sense that Flynn was still finding her rhythm and voice as a mystery novelist. I assume she took a big leap forward with her subsequent text, but it's also possible that she just did a much better job adapting herself than Paquet-Brenner does.

"Dark Places" stars Charlize Theron as Libby Day, who is asked to revisit the family massacre from her childhood that she witnessed and survived.

The material seems rather pulpy and pitch black to attract the in-demand A-list talent assembled here. The cast cannot elevate the writing or even do much of interest with their roles. Theron lets a trucker hat, short haircut, and shorter fuse be the bulk of her performance. She's onscreen a lot, but does much more reacting than acting. The character is supposed to grow and transform, but the exposition-heavy approach only alerts us to how ridiculous it is
for a childhood victim to play detective on her own thirty years later, stumbling into new information that somehow eluded prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the police. The more thought you give the story, the less logic and sense you see in it. The most interesting angle to the story -- the Kill Club -- is introduced and then disappears, with Lyle devolving from an integral figure to someone who only exists to have information relayed, often off-camera. The use of voiceover narration, presumably taken straight from the book's first-person bits, does not help endear us to Libby or to her quest for definitive answers.

If Flynn herself was not the author, you would accuse the writer of aping her style. And even if the book predates Gone Girl, that movie was much too effective and iconic not to invite comparisons, even after Dark Places was delayed nine months from its scheduled fall 2014 release. Those comparisons only serve to underscore this inferior film's deficiencies.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Irrational Man • The End of the Tour • Fantastic Four | New to DVD: Every Secret Thing
Charlize Theron: In the Valley of Elah • Trapped • Young Adult • The Road • Hancock
Nicholas Hoult: Jack the Giant Slayer • A Single Man • Warm Bodies • X-Men: First Class
Christina Hendricks: Lost River • Drive | Corey Stoll: This Is Where I Leave You • Midnight in Paris • Ant-Man
Chloe Grace Moretz: Let Me In • Clouds of Sils Maria • The Equalizer • Dark Shadows • Hugo • Kick-Ass

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Reviewed August 7, 2015.

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