Thursday, November 19, 2015

Film Review: Dark Places (2015)

Copyright: A24
From its onset, the Dark Places movie emits that particular vibe that tells that this film will not be a huge success with the audience. As a dark mystery and a thriller, it begins on a really somber note, showing a mass murder of the Day family in which a brother was accused and sentenced for killing his mother and two sisters.

The remaining sister Libby Day, then a small girl, is two decades later a grown woman, (played by Charlize Theron), who still lives off of the charity coming from random people who learn her cruel fate. Libby, now a jaded and detached individual, learns that in spite of this, the money is drying out, so she is forced to listen to an offer from a shady organization, who desires to reopen her case and find out what really happened that night when the murders took place.

The introduction of this group is one of the most impressive and unexpected elements of the film, which is both out of place (in a good way) and extremely intriguing. It is a shame that later on, the same element loses all relevance to the story.

Naturally, as Libby returns to the backwater part of Kansas where the crime took place, grizzly memories, but also new and worrying events, begin to unravel. Like the The Drop, it slowly build that unnerving tension, even though nothing really threatening happens.

As a thriller, Dark Places is pretty good. It builds two parallel narratives while it examines the young Ben Day, who was convicted of the murders, and his demanding pre-crime life of poverty and family instability. The second narrative deals with the present-day Libby and her quest for answers, until the two plot lines collide into a coherent story. Here, the director Gilles Paquet-Brenner uses a cinematographic approach that is reminiscent of the French horror thrillers from the early 21st century, where bleakness and an overall depressive setup add to the overall horror feel. In this movie as well, the Day family struggles as a collective, but also as individuals – Kansas is a desperate place to be poor, and Ben desperately wants to feel something apart from the sadness and irrelevance, no matter what the cost might be.

But, here the film also makes a turn for a more philosophical domain, where it tries to explore the choices that are made and their consequences as the past time frame moves closer and closer to the family murder, but does this in a very meandering way. At the same time, it gradually loses the tempo of the original setup and the organization that hired Libby doesn’t really matter anymore, even though she falls into active danger from unseen forces who wish for the case to stay closed.

The resolution of the film is, strangely, satisfying in an odd way, mainly because it ties up all the loose ends. Here, the film provides a solid conclusion and sets all the characters to their rightful place, but overall, it lacks any of those heart-racing moments (action one’s or other types) that a grizzly thriller mystery needs to have. This makes Dark Places movie a very good cerebral piece but keeps it emotionally at an arm’s length when it comes to connecting with the audience.