I knew that there was going to be a Dark Places movie before I learned that Gone Girl was also being developed into a film, but no matter how hard I tried to hunt down an official trailer, there seemed to be none available online. After Gone Girl released its own trailer and even showed the movie in theaters, Dark Places was still radio silent. So, I was finally glad to find out that I wasn’t just imagining the movie and it finally materialized in cinemas. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as impressive as I had hoped.
Libby Day (Charlize Theron) was the only survivor in the Kansas Prairie Massacre where she lost her mom and two older sisters. For the crime, her 15 year old brother Ben was tried and convicted after Libby herself testified that he committed the murders. Now, almost 30 years after the incident, Libby, now jaded and almost penniless, is forced to work with the Kill Club, a group of true crime enthusiasts who believe in Ben’s innocence. But in order to prove her brother is not guilty, they must track down the real killer. And if this was the case, does this mean that Libby was responsible for her brother’s incarceration for a crime he did not commit?
There was great expectation leading up to this movie mainly because it is headlined by Charlize Theron, who plays the character of Libby Day, who after the tragedy that has befallen her, allowed rage and bitterness to rule her life. Now almost bankrupt and relying on her dying celebrity to make ends meet, she clings to a last ditch effort to come across some money. Charlize can play a desperate, jaded character. She has proven this in Monster when her commitment to her role earned her an Academy Award. But aside from looking sullen and skittish as Libby, there was nothing truly special about Charlize’s performance in Dark Places. Don’t get me wrong. Its not her fault. Everyone in the cast did well enough for their parts, given what the material allowed them to.
The problem with Dark Places was that it never seemed to kick off. It settled with alternating between flashbacks and real time events which was the approach employed by the book too, but there was a monotony in the presentation that seemed to border on boring. There was no sense of urgency in the pace, nor an escalation that gets the audience really interested in solving the mystery. Even when it was headed towards the finish line, the approach seemed mechanical so when it came time to make the final reveal, instead of a Eureka, it became less of an AHA moment. As for Chloe Moretz, a talented young actress if there ever was one, her relative youth may have hampered the director’s ability to truly depict a malicious, manipulative teenager — the spoiled rich witch Diondra who only wanted to be the center of attention. Nicholas Hoult’s Lyle, on the other hand, was given little room to develop his character as he only dropped in once in a while with a brief moment of connection with Libby when he revealed why he was so committed to the Kill Club.
There were however, some good dramatic moments between Libby and Ben (Corey Stoll) which was consistent with their younger versions (Sterling Jerins and Tye Sheridan). Stoll was able to portray a character that audiences can truly get behind especially when he talks to his baby sister — he was able to communicate his longing and loneliness and regret in seeing her suffering as he was. Another successful aspect of the film was its development of appropriately irritating secondary characters like Magda (Kill Club) and Krissi Cates. These characters truly represent the spectacle that Libby’s life has become and how people have viewed her more like a circus freak rather than an actual person who suffered greatly.
All in all, Dark Places was a passable crime thriller but it didn’t push hard enough to develop the evil that motivated some of the characters, or delve into the desperation that led to the grisly crime. I felt like it was afraid to get down and dirty to reach into the dark places that the book was already referring to. It had an opportunity to be great, scary and memorable, but instead, it settled for okay. Instead of going for the jugular to deliver the same impact as the source material, it minimized to get a PG13 rating.