Based on the book by Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn you could be forgiven for approaching Dark Places with a sense of hope. It is, after all, a film that promises much: an unsolved murder mystery, a woman on the edge of society, a group of people called The Kill Club desperate to set innocent people free and a mother desperate to do whatever it takes to see her family survive. But despite all those ingredients Dark Places never manages to go, well, dark.
The story unfolds over two time periods. The first sees Libby Day (Charlize Theron) as a woman who has never worked but instead lived off hand-outs as a result of being the sole survivor of her family’s brutal murder as a child. When she is approached by Lyle (Nicholas Hoult) to come and speak to a group about what she remembers that day she begins to realise her memory is hazy at best. Before long she is visiting her brother Ben (Corey Stoll), who was found guilty of the murders, and learning he is not the monster she has painted in her mind. The second time period then flashes back to Ben (Tye Sheridan) as he embarks on a relationship with Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz) while his mother Patty (Christina Hendicks) struggles to keep hold of the family farm amid rising debts.
Sounds exciting right? Actually it sounds like there’s a lot going on. And therein lies Dark Places’ biggest issue. There is too much going on. Between the murders and the intrigue and the spiraling debts and the endless stream of potential killers the film forgets to really develop the characters.
Libby should be a character who begins to learn the Dark Places of the title have been conjured by her own sense of self-worth rather than anything else but this part is skipped over. Moreover certain characters are painted in smart and interesting lights only for them to do something quite out of character and ruin everything that has been built before.
Others are painted as purely deranged, meaning that you know they’re almost certainly not guilty. Indeed the film even states this when Libby, in a clunky voice over, first meets Lyle she notes that he looks like a serial killer and therefore almost certainly isn’t one.
Given she produced the film it is forgivable that Theron chose to star in the film. But her casting never feels right for the role. Libby is supposed to be down on her luck, out-cast and alienated. Sticking a trucker cap on Theron and asking us to believe she is therefore damaged doesn’t really work. It’s not that she’s bad in the role, Theron is rarely bad in anything, but her star power distracts from her character and what she is supposed to represent. The two stars that do shine are Stoll and Sheridan both playing Ben. It’s because the character is well written, interesting in his conflicts that both actors are able to bring a sense of pent-up anguish to their performances.
An interesting premise that never reaches its potential these Dark Places leave a night-light on rather than exploring the recesses of psychology.