Movie Review | Dark Places (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Freda Cooper 25.01.2016

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Dark Places (UK Rating: 15)

After one huge success, what next? Gone Girl was a runaway hit, both in print and on the big screen, so author Gillian Flynn has decided another of her novels should be made into a film. Dark Places, which has just been released, has many of her trademarks, but it starts with the disadvantage of being second out of the blocks.

Libby Day was just eight years old when her mother and sisters were brutally murdered. She was also the sole survivor and has lived off of her story ever since, through book deals and interviews. As her money dries up, an opportunity for income arrives, but means she has to confront her past all over again and uncover the truth behind the night that changed her life.

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Chronologically, the film is only just behind its predecessor, as it was also scheduled for release in the US in 2014, but then put back to last summer. The UK audience has had to wait even longer, yet the timing certainly explains the cast list, which is on a par with that for Gone Girl: Charlize Theron as the adult Libby, Christina Hendrix as her mother, Chloe Grace Moretz, Corey Stoll, Tye Sheridan, and Nicholas Hoult. It's a line-up that goes with a high profile project, making the way it's slipped into cinemas with hardly a whisper even more extraordinary - not a sign of confidence, that's for sure.

The story is full of the twists, turns, and corkscrews that go with a Flynn novel, zig-zagging back and forth from the present day to Libby's childhood… and then back again. Initially, it appears to be about memory and how it changes over the years, as well as fractured family relationships but, once the premise has been laid out, it soon descends into something much closer to a police procedural, with the older Libby Day (Theron) trying to establish whether her brother Ben, currently in prison for the murder, really is guilty. Visits to the adult Ben (Corey Stoll) alternate with going back in time to witness the younger Ben (Tye Sheridan)'s childhood story, full of drugs, heavy metal music and a loose cannon of a girlfriend, Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz). Dark Places comes across as a variation on the proverbial cold case, and the team from the TV series of the same name would probably have wrapped it up a lot faster.

That aside, there's a genuine problem with the characters since, with the single exception of Christina Hendrix's mother who does command some sympathy, they are very hard to engage with.  There's a brick wall between Theron's Libby and the rest of the world - self-protection after her childhood trauma, yet she comes across as snappy and unlikeable - and there's also the incongruity of Theron being stunningly attractive, even dressed down in jeans and a baseball cap, and yet none of the men around her notice. The rest of the characters are also best kept at arm's length, such as Diondra, especially in one scene where it's tempting to just cry "Enough!"

The film may be about the dark places in life and memory, but director Gilles Paquet-Brenner and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (also behind the camera for last week's release, The Big Short) have taken the title a touch too literally, with the result being that a number of scenes are so dimly lit that it's difficult to see what's going on - something of a fundamental mistake.

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Rated 5 out of 10


Dark Places may have been made around the same time as the highly successful Gone Girl, but it really does come off as being second best. Neither the story nor the characters are of the same calibre, and not even the efforts of its high-profile cast can disguise the cracks. What could have been an interesting examination of dealing with the past, instead feels like an extended episode of a cop series, and who wants to pay to see that?

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