Dark Places Movie Review
Like Gone Girl before it, Dark Places is an adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel, but that’s where the similarities end. Where Gone Girl featured an A-list director and a major marketing push, Dark Places is directed by a Frenchman no one in the States has heard of, and the movie received a largely unannounced theatrical and simultaneous VOD release before swiftly arriving on DVD.
The ingredients are there, sadly enough. The novel is actually my favorite of the three Flynn books, an entertaining and fast-paced mystery about things spiraling out of control, misinterpretations and shady characters doing shady things. The story has what you need to make a brooding thriller--murder, satanic rituals, kill clubs, psychotic girlfriends, etc. And the movie is not without its star power--Charlize Theron plays lead protagonist Libby Day and Nicholas Hoult (who co-stars with Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road) and Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men") also serve as familiar faces.
But the movie was at a disadvantage from the get go, as explained in a Washington Post article which outlines how director Gilles Paquet-Brenner optioned rights to the book long before "Gone Girl" was even a thing--and how the highly publicized adaptation made it into theaters a year in advance of Dark Places, an independent film made for a fraction of the cost.
Unfortunately, unrealistic expectations are hardly the reason why Dark Places failed to make a dent critically or financially. The movie is simply a bore, a string of scenes that resemble chapters from the book but lack the frenetic energy, suspense or even explanation to make it worthwhile. Scene by scene the movie isn’t dreadful, but the whole lacks synergy, cohesiveness, any sense of excitement or thrills. Charlize Theron isn’t a poor choice for Libby Day, but the only emotion she truly captures is that of boredom. Hendricks isn’t given much to work with, nor is Hoult.
Whereas David Fincher took the subject matter of "Gone Girl" and twisted, stretched, enlarged and exaggerated it to meet his vision, Dark Places feels much more like a step-by-step reading of the original material, albeit with many of the juicy details removed and reduced--the very details that make the book so delicious. The film never amounts to much, and, admittedly, the climax/big reveal doesn’t work as well on the big screen as it does on paper.
Dark Places is not Gone Girl, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But even as a lower budget, independently financed film, it could have been a satisfyingly entertaining thriller. Sadly, it’s a film only deserving of its own dark place, a hole that will allow it to be quickly forgotten.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.