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Categories: Movie Reviews

Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s “Dark Places”, adapted from the novel by “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn, is a solid mystery movie elevated by an excellent cast which includes Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Chloë Grace Moretz and Tye Sheridan.

Gillian Flynn is the big thing right now, with three best-selling novels in nine years and a wealth of awards for her film adaptation of Gone Girl,  one of the most successful mystery movies in recent memory. Riding on the success of Gone Girl, French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner has adapted Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places, to the screen, with a spectacular cast that makes it one of the most exciting films of the year so far.

Luckily for me, I’m living in France right now, and I’ve been able to see this gripping film a bit earlier than my friends in the UK and America. And, while I’ll concede that it’s not quite as crisp a film as Gone Girl, it’s definitely far from a disappointment, and worth seeing for anyone looking to be pulled into a dense, poignant thriller full of shocks and surprises.

001charlize-theron-dark-placesThe similarities between Dark Places and Gone Girl go much further than author and genre. Like with Nick Dunne in Gone Girl, Dark Places‘ central character Libby Day (Charlize Theron) is the source of much media attention after a tragedy strikes her family, though in her case she’s by no means a suspect. Dark Places also deals with similar themes, such as the conflicts between honesty and protection and independence and family, and unravels its mystery through a string of gruesome and disturbing events.

*Some summary of plot details ahead*

The film is a collage of stories told from different perspectives in different points in time, with one of them being Libby as an eight-year-old girl. 28 years ago, Libby was the only survivor of a killing spree that left her mother and two sisters brutally murdered, and in a haze of fear she confessed that her devil-worshipping, heavy metal-listening brother Ben (Tye Sheridan) was responsible. The police, who encouraged this “confession”, were satisfied to lock up Ben, whose record was far from clean anyway, as a scapegoat, and he as refused appeal ever since.

Libby, though not entirely certain he was guilty, is satisfied with the conviction, and has spent most of her life trying to excavate money from her tragedy and scrape by with as little conflict as possible. Unfortunately for her, she’s now gotten to the stage where communal pity (and financial support) for her has worn out, and she’s forced to sell her recollection of events to a group called the Kill Club, an organization of private detectives and murder enthusiasts who attempt to solve famous mysteries. Club leader Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), convinced that Ben was innocent, pays her a hefty sum to investigate any and all possible suspects in an attempt to uncover the truth behind her family’s slaughter.

004charlize-theron-dark-places-movie-gillian-flynn-chloe-grace-moretz-release-date-trailer-serving-cinema-joey-nolfiLibby and Lyle thus proceed to travel far and wide in search of family members, friends, and associates of her brother, all while we’re intermittently shown flashbacks of the true unraveling of events, from the perspectives of Libby’s mother (Christina Hendricks) and brother (Sheridan) as well as the first-person perspective of Libby herself (Sterling Jerins plays the younger Libby). We’re introduced to a smattering of unusual characters in both their past and present forms, including Ben’s girlfriend Diondra (Chloë Grace Moretz and Andrea Roth), Libby’s pot dealer father Runner (Sean Bridgers), and Krissi Cates (Addy Miller and Drea de Matteo), a mentee of Ben’s who accused him of molesting her.

Like all mysteries, it’s anyone’s guess as to the truth behind the murder, and we’re thrown many curveballs and dragged round many corners before all is eventually revealed. That’s how things have always worked, and that’s how they should be. A mystery is all about the characters involved, the motives they may or may not have, and the clues they may or not have left behind, and Dark Places stays true to this structure while providing ample commentary on rural family life, small town gossip, and the supposed Satanism epidemic of the 80s.

Charlize Theron is strong in the lead role, reaching back into the dark places of her own past to give us a troubled lead character reliving the worst night of her life through the most intense two weeks of her life. She isn’t without incredible support, either, with a supporting cast better than any since, well, Gone Girl. Corey Stoll is notable as the adult Ben Day, who’s forgiven Libby for turning him in without even witnessing the murder, and Christina Hendricks channels the same single mother gravitas she had in Lost River yet again here in another strong turn.

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The real stars of the show, though, are its younger actors: Tye Sheridan as the troubled Ben, drawn into satanism through peer pressure and on the run from the police for alleged child molestation, and especially Chloë Grace Moretz as his pregnant girlfriend, a violent rich girl who hopes to run away with Ben and leave everything else behind her. Moretz is no stranger to juicy material, and channels the same anarchistic and domineering flair here that made her famous in Kick-Ass, only with even more precision and charisma. This time she’s not just there for shock value, either, playing a complex, intelligent character who has far more control over her situation than is safe for the people around her. She’s an instant, early contender for the best supporting performance of the year.

Dark Places is an excellent mystery with interesting characters, strong production values (though nothing as stunning as in Gone Girl), and an engrossing and often shocking viewpoint on family life and rural society. All in all, it’s got all the elements a good mystery needs, and fans of the genres shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a little rough around the edges – I was disappointed that very little development went into the “Kill Club” that Libby works with besides a few expository scenes, and from a technical perspective it’s very conventional. But, overall, it’s a film I totally recommend.

Dark Places is out now in France and will be released worldwide later on in 2015. 

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Apr 13, 2015

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