Directed by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Premise: Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn. Charlize Theron plays Libby Day, the lone survivor of a mass murder in which her brother allegedly killed her entire family when Libby was eight years old. Nearly thirty years later she reinvestigates the case and discovers new information that may implicate a different killer.
What Works: Dark Places is a murder mystery but it has a number of things going for it that distinguish the picture from the average whodunit. For one, it incorporates elements of true crime culture. Charlize Theron plays Libby Day, a middle aged woman who has been a public figure since childhood because of the tragic death of her family. This sort of figure is familiar to consumers of true crime media. Among the public’s curious responses to tragic news stories is to indiscriminately send money to victims and Libby has been able to live off of her notoriety until now. She lives a slothful life, partly as a matter of laziness but also because she is psychologically stuck as a perpetual victim. In need of money, Libby agrees to meet with the Kill Club, another of the unusual aspects of this film. There are those who spend their free time obsessing over true crime stories, befriending the killers through letters or pouring over the case files and devising their own theories. Dark Places delves into this subculture where murders are discussed with the same passion as comic books and sports statistics. Libby meets the club treasurer played by Nicholas Hoult and they reevaluate the facts in the case. Another of the unusual aspects of Dark Places is the narrative structure. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion and for the most part Dark Places is a very good example of this kind of storytelling. The film veers into the past at relevant moments, recreating the events leading up to the murders. The jumps occur at relevant points and the juxtaposition both confirms and subverts what the characters believe to be true. In that respect, Dark Places has a little more depth to it than the average crime thriller. This is a movie about the link between truth, memory, and identity. The investigation reveals that our memories are more plastic than we generally acknowledge and that means that our sense of self and our grasp on the truth is also malleable. The new investigation crumbles Libby’s sense of self and she has to reconstruct her identity by rediscovering what actually happened to her family.
What Doesn’t: Dark Places suffers from some technical flaws. The sound levels on the movie are jarringly uneven. Some scenes are blaringly loud while the dialogue is frequently so soft as to be hard to hear at normal levels. The storytelling of Dark Places moves along quite well until it gets to the ending. When the movie reaches its climax and the truth about the murders is finally revealed everything happens too quickly. The climax effectively crosscuts the events of the past and present but the present tense struggle between Libby and the perpetrators is too short and doesn’t put them in enough direct conflict. The climax is also dogged by some credibility problems. Without giving too much away, the finale takes place in a big house located on what must be an expensive property. The people who live there don’t seem capable of amassing that kind of money. In its denouement, Dark Places wraps up the story but it doesn’t take the time to address what all of the revelations mean for the characters. Charlize Theron’s Libby and Nicholas Hoult’s investigator need at least one more scene in which they complete the arc of their relationship. The movie needs just a little more of a resolution to transition the audience out of the story.
DVD extras: Featurettes.
Bottom Line: Dark Places flew under the radar of viewers and generally didn’t get the regard it deserved from critics. The movie is flawed and is certainly no Gone Girl but there is an intelligence to Dark Places that elevates it above the average murder mystery.
Episode: #572 (December 6, 2015)