Hot on the heels of Gone Girl, David Fincher’s dementedly enjoyable Gillian Flynn adaptation, comes a second Flynn-based movie under the guidance of Gilles Paquet-Brenner. With it comes another stellar cast, Flynn’s built-in fanbase, and a morose story involving secret societies that obsess over (un)solved mysteries of the past – another home run you might assume, right?
Wrong. Dark Places doesn’t come across nearly as dark as Flynn’s book reads, and can’t hold a candle to the twisted insanity Fincher was able to find in the author’s work not even a year ago. Brenner’s deadly story feels watered down and slight when compared to the tone you’d imagine from Flynn’s novelization, and fails to create any drama worth a sadistic chill.
Moral of the story: it’s exactly what’d you’d expect from a buried DirectTV release starring such immense talents as Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Corey Stoll, Christina Hendricks, and Chloë Grace Moretz (among MANY others). If those names are going straight to VOD, you know there’s a problem.
Dark Places tells the tragic tale of Libby Day (Charlize Theron), who watched her family die during a gruesome break-in murder when she was a young child. As if the event wasn’t horrific enough, the only other survivor was her brother Ben (Corey Stoll), who she pegs as guilty despite some wonky evidence.
We catch up with Libby years later, while she’s living off of the generous donations of many sympathetic hearts from across the country. With the cheques coming in less frequently, it’s time for Libby to get a job – which she avoids by accepting an offer to appear at a strange club run by Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult). She visits a society called the Kill Club (KC for short), where criminal enthusiasts meet to discuss and refute famous court cases, and humors a few of their theories before storming out of the room in a huff. She’s convinced Ben HAS to be the killer, but the different theories start to stir a bit of doubt in Libby – a doubt that reopens the case and sends her on an investigative journey into pure darkness.
Unfortunately, Libby is not a character we care much to invest in, and that’s our first hurdle. Here we are, trying to sympathize with a haunted survivor who steals from the poor and preys off their gratuity, capitalizing on the generosity of man for her own benefit. Sure – living through your family’s execution might screw your head a bit for the future. I don’t argue that obvious notion. But Libby’s deep-seeded torment finds itself being conveyed without any charisma on the part of Theron.
Libby is a recluse powered by money, until she randomly starts caring that her brother might be innocent after spending decades in jail. Why suddenly care about a buried family history that you’ve repressed (with little success) for so long? Libby’s investigation is extremely weak (straight-up Googling people’s addresses), her cold demeanor becomes tiresome, and the cat and mouse game that plays out is missing an abusive tension that’s so sorely needed to properly respect Flynn’s horrifying story. Ben’s guilty sentence is perfectly structured to be immediately unbelievable, and a slew of evidence coincidentally comes pouring out through the most basic digging on Libby’s part – a boring tactic that sucks most of the life out of Dark Places.
Aside from Theron’s inability to channel Libby’s inner darkness, Gilles Paquet-Brenner provides no atmospheric help when trying to hit upon the farthest reaches of Libby’s inner anguish. You’d assume Dark Places would be on the grim level of Gone Girl‘s morose trickery, but this second Gillian Flynn adaptation is rather bland and inconsequential. More background about Wirth’s unique Kill Club would have been welcomed, along with a more dangerous mystery worth solving.
Brenner’s direction is rather generic and unremarkable, taking away from the twisted intrigue that should come from Libby’s slow unraveling of the truth. From her visits with Ben – which make it obvious from the get-go that Corey Stoll’s former devil-worshipping self had absolutely nothing to do with his mother and sister’s deaths – to boring lapses of Libby’s begrudging detective work, Dark Places trudges through mystery movie generics without offering anything unique to the genre Gods.
Plain and simple – Dark Places is a two hour chore that wastes an absolutely stacked cast on one of the more over-stuffed films of 2015. There’s so much content jammed in this paltry case, yet Brenner barely manages to say anything of note through his vision. And Theron’s performance says even less. Yes, Dark Places is the straight-to-VOD ensemble disaster you’re afraid it’s going to be, which is an inexcusable shame. Sorry Gillian Flynn, at least you can still thank David Fincher for one faithfully winning adaptation. Just go ahead and pretend that this one never happened.
When a movie boasts such a loaded cast but still finds itself sentenced to a buried fate, there's usually a reason. Or in the case of Dark Places, there are many reasons.