Dark Places (2015)
When a film I have never heard of pops up as a TV showing, I usually check out some reviews or listings to see if it is something I might want to watch. But as this was described as a ‘Mystery thriller’, and starred Charlize Theron, I taped it on the PVR anyway.
Considering it had escaped my film radar completely, this film has a lot going for it. For one thing, it is set in Kansas, not California or New York. The dingy backstreets of Kansas City, and the arid-looking farmlands of the wider state make a refreshing change from the norm, and something very different for someone used to seeing familiar American (or Canadian) locations. (OK, it was filmed in Louisiana, but what do I know? I was happy to believe it was Kansas.) I should say from the start that I later found out this film went straight to video/cable, and received mostly very bad reviews. So, here we have a film with a deceptive location, no cinema pedigree, and bad reviews. Why did I watch it?
The simple answer is Charlize Theron. She tackles her role as Libby with dedication, little or no make up, and wearing a baseball cap and jeans. Nervy, aggressive, often foul-mouthed, she is not a character you might warm to, but I did. Nicolas Hoult (the boy in ‘About A Boy’) co-stars as the amiable geek who wants her to face her past demons, and unravel the secrets that have long tormented her.
The story concerns a family ‘massacre’ many years earlier. Libby survived, and her older brother was convicted of killing her mother, and both her sisters. The crime got a great deal of attention, and Libby became an eight year old celebrity, with a ghost written book about the event, and donations from well-wishers that have enabled her to live without working ever since. She is reclusive, a hoarder, has no friends, and little contact with the outside world. But the money is running out, and she is approached by a young man who wants her to examine her memory, and reveal what really happened on that fateful night.
The film is told in two distinct parts, with flashbacks to the events inserted into the modern day investigation. Each of the main characters is shown as a teenager or child, so there are two casts, including a convincing and watchable Chloe Grace Moretz as a wild teen involved with the older brother. As Libby begins to question her recall, she investigates the statements given at the time, and travels around to find those involved, all now adults. Her memories change with each encounter, and we see the differences in flashback sequences.
The film throws in some amateur satanic worship, and the usual drunken, shiftless and mostly absent father, with a nod to press sensationalism of crime. The mother is broke, with her farm not making any money, and the bank threatening to foreclose. The older brother may or may not have sexually abused young girls (but not his sisters) as well as murdering most of his family, and Libby has never visited him in prison, not once. All things we have seen before of course.
Mostly, I thought it was well done indeed. Maybe I am easily pleased, but I don’t think that’s it. I was never confused about which time period the film was in, or which cast members were playing the grown up versions of the younger characters. Theron was as good as ever, and the final reveal of what actually happened that night was totally unexpected, at least by me. On the downside, there is a distinct lack of any real tension that you might expect from the genre, and Hoult’s role seems rather pointless, other than to introduce doubt. Also his acting is stiff, and by the numbers. But I have seen a lot worse films that had much better reviews, I can assure you of that.