Saturday 9 September 2017

Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)

A crime thriller mystery melding the past with the present, Dark Places has a promising, brooding premise but flubs the resolution.

The film takes place in two timelines: 1985, when a notorious crime happened, and the present day. In 1985, eight year old Libby Day is the only survivor of a Kansas farmhouse massacre that kills her two sisters and her mother. Based on young Libby's confused and fractured testimony, her teenaged brother Ben, a heavy metal music fan who dabbled in Satanism, is convicted.

In 2015, Libby (Charlize Theron) has wasted her life doing nothing and living off the charity of others. Now nearly broke, she accepts an offer from amateur murder sleuth Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult) to research the real story of what happened at the Kansas farmhouse. Libby visits Ben (Corey Stoll) in prison for the first time and starts to piece together the events preceding the murders.

Prior to the massacre Libby's mother Patty (Christina Hendricks), divorced from the sleazeball Runner (Sean Bridgers), was struggling to make ends meet, while Ben was spending time with his older girlfriend Diondra (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) and criminal hardhead Trey Teepano. Ben was also facing accusations of sexually abusing young girls, including Krissi Cates. The grown up Libby tries to track down Diondra, Krissi and Trey among others to finally understand what really happened and why.

Based on the book of the same name by Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame), Dark Places builds up a satisfying head of steam as the past and present story of Libby Day is revealed. Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner actually plays in three time zones, adding in increments a jerky recreation of the night of the murders, mostly from the muddled perspective of young Libby, to the two main narratives.

And there are enough subtle riddles about the events of the night to create a rich atmosphere of evil, and open up possibilities for motives and villains. Many family members, friends, associates and hangers on had reasons to unleash violence on the fateful night. At the centre of the mayhem then and still suffering now, Libby has to decide how much she wants to care, and whether poking away at the scars of the past is worth the emotional pain.

But the narrative thrust starts to unravel the closer Paquet-Brenner gets to his conclusion, and in some ways the story picks the weakest path towards resolution. The ending is rushed and jumbled, and in many ways inconsistent with some of the more determined character traits that the film invests in.

The choice for the two lead actresses gets in the way. Charlize Theron and Christina Hendricks don't do anything wrong; they are simply too glamorous for their roles, and have to work back from the starting line to convince as rural, poor and borderline white trash folks. Theron spends the entire movie covering her hair and eyes under a baseball cap in an unsuccessful attempt to get into the skin of a woman with nothing going for her except an offer for a few paltry bucks from true-life murder nerds.

As for Lyle Wirth and his club of amateur crime solvers, they fade out of the story after contributing a base level of interesting irritation.

Dark Places launches into a captivating and twisty mystery, but flubs the landing.

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