For those who loved the twisty and twisted narrative of last year’s “Gone Girl,” “Dark Places” – also from the mind of novelist Gillian Flynn – just might scratch that itch for mystery. But without David Fincher’s chilly auteurist touch, “Dark Places” is just one step above a Lifetime TV movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: There are many pleasures to be found mucking around in this ooey-gooey murder melodrama, but high-brow this is not.
Charlize Theron, beautiful even in dirty jeans and a battered trucker cap, portrays the deeply troubled Libby Day, the only survivor of her family’s massacre, for which her brother Ben has been imprisoned since she was a child. Libby, down and out, is desperate for cash and gets drawn into an amateur “Kill Club,” a group of hobbyist true crime sleuths, led by Lyle (Nicholas Hoult). Libby subjects herself to their curiosity for money, but their insistence on Ben’s innocence leads her down the rabbit hole of her own memory, as she starts to question everything she believed – and testified – at Ben’s trial.
The cast is rather inexplicably stacked with talent, from Oscar-winner Theron to Corey Stoll and Tye Sheridan, who play older and younger Ben, to Christina Hendricks as the siblings’ struggling mother. Chloë Grace Moretz, as young Ben’s wild child girlfriend, gives a performance comparable to Nancy Allen in Brian De Palma’s 1976 “Carrie,” tipping the proceedings directly into camp territory, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering the juicy material. But it feels like the film doesn’t want to commit to either pure camp or stoic darkness, fluctuating between the two.
The twists, turns and reveals in the mystery sustain interest in the film, which hops between present day to the day of the murders, interspersed with Libby’s flashback of fleeing the house that night. But, despite all the shocking developments, the resolution is rushed, and therefore farfetched and confounding. Important connections are completely passed over, and it doesn’t seem like the film even believes its own ending. And once the mystery is over, we don’t have any reason to care about these characters, because no effort has been made to make us care about them, or even get to know them as people.
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Much like in “Gone Girl,” and, it seems, in the worldview of Gillian Flynn, the women of “Dark Places” are devious and the men are stupid. This cynical outlook is at once new and different in Hollywood films, but one wonders how long that can last without any ounce of real redemption.
Existential questions aside, the surface level generic pleasures of “Dark Places” and the stellar cast are entertaining enough, even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
Cast: Charlize Theron, Corey Stoll, Christina Hendricks, Tye Sheridan, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicholas Hoult
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Rated R (for some disturbing violence, language, drug use and sexual content)