Movie Review - Dark Places

This is based on the 2009 novel by Gillian Flynn, the author of the hit Gone Girl, which was the story she wrote after this one. The success of Gone Girl makes it understandable why this book was adapted, but the twist or the mystery at the heart of this is not as shocking, or at least as it's depicted doesn't come across as shocking.

What dilutes the shocking nature of it is the fact that it's built on flashbacks. The immediacy and thrills are diluted unlike Gone Girl which remains pretty much in the here and now.

Written and directed by Gilles Paquel-Brenner, this film is basically a dramatization or a twist on the West of Memphis story about three teenagers who were accused of murdering three children. In this film, instead of several teens, just one teenage boy is accused and in fact tried of committing a triple homicide, that of his own family. He's easily convicted in court and in the court of public opinion because he's a weird loner who's into Goth.

Charlize Theron (Hancock and Monster) stars as Libby Day, the only survivor when her family is viciously murdered in their own home. The murders happen in 1985 when Libby was only 8. Her single mother was stabbed and shot. Her older sister was shot. Her second eldest sister was strangled, but, somehow, Libby managed to escape and hide. Afterward, she testified that her older brother was the one who committed the killings, and he went to prison for it.

Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy and X-Men: First Class) co-stars as Lyle Worth, the owner of two laundromats and a key member of a group of people obsessed with murder cases. Lyle meets Libby as an adult. He probably wasn't even born when the murders happened, but Lyle actually wants to use Libby to re-investigate her family crime because he thinks her brother is innocent. He then has to convince a very reluctant, a very bitter, cynical but also a very desperate Libby to help him explore the case now 30 years later.

This is when the movie gets a little muddled. As Libby helps with this re-investigation, the movie flashes back to the time that led up to the murders. As the film did this, it got increasingly frustrating, and made me care less and less about both plot-lines, particularly the present-day storyline with the adults.

Corey Stoll (The Strain and Ant-Man) plays Benjamin Day, the brother imprisoned for killing his mother and sisters. Libby visits him as he's behind bars. Stoll is such a great actor. Paired opposite Theron, he's even better, but those scenes are almost a waste of time, as it becomes clear he's not telling Libby the whole truth and 30 years later, it makes no sense as to why. If Flynn or even Paquel-Brenner had made an even more pulpy twist like maybe Benjamin escaped from prison or got out somehow, that could have energized it. Yet, as it is, it becomes nothing but a distraction that's only mildly compelling.

Tye Sheridan (Mud and Joe) plays the teenage Benjamin Day that we mainly follow in the flashbacks that are a staple in this film. Sheridan and the story surrounding him is great. He is pulled down a dark path, thanks to his wild girlfriend, Diondra, played by Chloƫ Grace Moretz (Hugo and The Equalizer), and he's the object of growing suspicion from his mother, Patty Day, played by Christina Hendricks (Mad Men and Drive).

If this film had started here and remained here, that would have been fine or even better. It's all intriguing and thrilling. Moretz, Hendricks and again Sheridan all give great performances in it, but the power of these flashbacks get enervated or lost in the cutting to the present-day and adult stuff, which is off or different slightly in its tone and which only provide Theron and Hoult a platform to have a Mad Max: Fury Road reunion.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some disturbing violence, language, drug use and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.

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