Libby Day (Charlize Theron) was only seven years old when her mother and two sisters were murdered and her brother Ben (Tye Sheridan, Joe) was jailed for the crime. Now, twenty-five years later, Libby discovers shocking evidence that Ben may be innocent-and the real killer is still at large. Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road), Chloë Grace Moretz (If I Stay), Sterling Jerins (World War Z), Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) and Christina Hendricks (TV's "Mad Men") costar in this ingeniously plotted thriller based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl).
Having not read any of Gillian Flynn's books, I was pleasantly surprised by David Fincher's adaptation of her twisted novel 'Gone Girl.' As expected, Fincher's direction, the performances by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, and the gorgeous cinematography were fantastic – but none of that would have been possible without the source material. The novel from which is was based was not only filled with unpredictable twists and turns, but it hid an insane commentary on society, parenthood, and marriage. Because this all-around great cinematic experience would not have been possible without Flynn's novel, I expected the rest of her writings to be of a similar solid quality; however, when I read that the second adaptation of her work, 'Dark Places,' would debut on streaming services several weeks before starting a limited theatrical run, I started to suspect that 'Gone Girl' was fluke. Boy, was I right.
On paper, 'Dark Places' has a lot going for it. The film adaptation stars Academy Award winner Charlize Theron and pairs her with rising young actors Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan and Chloë Grace Moretz, as well as known actors Corey Stoll and Christina Hendricks. That's a pretty solid cast for a movie whose theatrical release would never expand beyond 151 worldwide locations. Rumored to have a production budget of $15 million, the brutally low $208,588 total theatrical gross is the biggest reflection of the movie's low quality.
In the Danny Boyle film 'A Life Less Ordinary' (which I'm sure I'll be criticized for mentioning in a positive light), the lead character teases the plot to a novel he's writing, only to have the romantic interest character cut him short and explain the entirety of its predictable plot back to him, including the twists. That's exactly how I felt watching 'Dark Places.' It's the stuff of bad mystery movies. It revolves around flat one-dimensional characters, stereotypes, preposterous ideas and lucky coincidences. To put it simply, it's the opposite of 'Gone Girl.'
Theron plays an angry character who wants nothing to do with the world, yet wouldn't have a roof over her head without it. We quickly learn about what has brought her to this point in her depressing life: as a child, her sisters and hard-working single mother (Hendricks) were murdered in their secluded farmhouse. She escaped just seconds before her shotgun-wielding brother (Sheridan) could take her out too. Her brother was caught and convicted of the murders, leaving Theron's character all alone in life. Since adulthood, she has lived as a financially free hoarding hermit shut-in, paying for this wasteful and inglorious lifestyle with the royalties from her ghost-written book about the family massacre. Her brother (the grown-up version of which is played by Stoll) has passed the time in prison and will never experience freedom.
Right when her financial manager notifies her that she is down to the last several hundred dollars in her bank account (if he's just now telling her that she's broke, then she needs to find a new manager), she's conveniently approached by young entrepreneur (Hoult) who's willing to throw his wealth around for his odd hobby. Like a less insane version of 'Fight Club,' he and his weirdo group of wealthy friends spend their time in a seedy rundown building for what they call "Kill Club." (That less-than-original title just goes to show how creative Flynn's writing is here.) Their club isn't dedicated to killing, but to studying famous killings and the wackos responsible for them. With a thespian flare, some of the members participate in cosplay reenactments of their most favorite murders; others take on a Sherlock Holmes role to crack the cases of unsolved mysteries. Hoult's character has reached out to Theron's because her gruesome family story is not only his favorite massacre, but he's certain that her convicted brother isn't the real murderer. With only days left before the court's files of his murder case are going to be destroyed by that state (wait -- you mean to tell me that the courts are going to destroy his physical files although we live in the digital era of document digitization?!), he offers her money to actively participate in re-living the grizzly experience and helping discover the clues that will prove his suspected innocence. It's only because of her empty bank account that she decides to play along and face the past that still haunts her.
Bouncing around back and forth between the present story and the past, you'll be able to immediately tell where 'Dark Places' is going. It follows the same murder mystery formula that you've seen in a hundred other movies and even more grocery store novel racks. The only thing more disappointing is the movie's absurd reveal that hinges entirely on the movie's far-too-frequently-used crutches: convenience and coincidence. Although full of actors who are very capable of delivering brilliant performances, even they are disappointing thanks to their cookie-cutter characters. The only praise-worthy aspect of 'Dark Places' is Christina Hendricks and her wonderful performance. I don't know what Oscar-worthy movie she thought she was acting in, but I'd like to see it.
If you loved 'Gone Girl' as much as I did and hoped that 'Dark Places' would follow in its footsteps, be prepared for disappointment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate and A24 have placed 'Dark Places' on a Region A BD-50 disc and placed it in a standard blue Elite keepcase with a Digital HD redemption code and a flimsy cardboard slip cover the mirrors the "floating head" artwork of the keepcase. Upon popping the disc into your player, you're forced to watch an FBI warning and a Lionsgate reel prior to skippable trailers for 'Room,' 'The Witch,' 'The Vatican Tapes,' 'Ex Machina' and 'A Most Violent Year.'
'Dark Places' features a nice 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video presentation that never quite impresses, but also isn't a letdown.
The film kicks off with a nighttime scene that carries the look and feel of night vision VHS footage. It's riddled with artifacts, terrible black levels and awful contrast – but fret not. The POV footage carries this quality intentionally because it's meant to represent the recollection of a childhood memory. Aside from a handful of scenes that return us to this same memory, it's not a reoccurring issue.
'Dark Places' carries the crisp quality of a purely digital production. Albeit flat, it's smooth and clear from beginning to end. Details shine through constantly. The visible textures and patterns of clothing can be made out with ease. Grit and grime can be noticed in fine detail on the dirty porous faces of characters. Theron's unwashed hair carries the visibly gross greasy look. The transfer isn't at all lacking in that area.
Colorization is bright and vibrant. Once scene takes us into a glowing neon strip club. Even through the interior lights are exceptionally vibrant, they never cross over into the detail-chomping area of oversaturation. Black levels are consistently strong – but never crushed – creating a tension from the uncertainty of what lies within the shadows. Aliasing, banding and noise aren't present, but there's a quick odd issue that only flashes for one quick frame at the 42:50 mark. A solitary frame features eight dead pixels randomly scattered throughout the screen.
'Dark Places' carries a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that's subtle and dynamic in some places, yet relentlessly flat in others. It's a mixed bag of good and bad.
Theron's character peppers the film with a voice-over narration, strings of inner monologues not unlike those of Amazing Amy's diary entries in 'Gone Girl.' Her voice is located front-and-center and carries high volume. Her words are clear and crisp, completely audible at all times. But on the flipside, we get her prison-bound older brother (Stoll). As he speaks to his sister through a glass pane and phone handset, from her side of glass, you'd expect his voice to carry a muffled effect – which it does. However, when the camera jumps to his side of the pane, it remains exactly the same. This is where the first problem kicks in. Stoll's voice is so deep and muffled that it's hard to understand what he's saying. The issue has nothing to do with volume, but is a problem caused by mixing. No other character brings on this same issue. It's always within Stoll's voice and his voice is always buried beneath the tone.
The effects mixing brings many of the locations and environments to life. Off-screen door knocks are prescribed to the appropriate channels. Outdoor locations feature dynamic effects that place you within the beautiful locales. Voices are used like effects to bring a level of realism to the overall mix. Chatter is properly mixed according to the on-screen bearings. If a character yells another character's name from behind the audience's perspective, then the sound emits from the rear channels. Along those same lines, in-movie music is also mixed in way that uses it like an effect. At Kill Club, loud bassy music thumps and echoes in a way that you'd expect it to sound in that setting; however, other aspects of the music mixing tarnishes the audio quality.
Instead of featuring a full, bright and dynamic score, it's quite flat. Evenly spread throughout the mix, it does its job to fill the space, but that's about all that it accomplishes. Have you even watched a bad movie that relies on an over-used score simply because the direction, story and acting aren't capable of conveying a tone or tension on their own? That's what 'Dark Places' does with its score. As if it was quickly created last-minute at the lowest cost possible, it feels like it was simply thrown in – and it's not just the score. Whether the genre of music played within the movie is fitting or not, all music carries the exact same thumping quality of the Kill Club music. It's nice to have the bass liven up the mix, but it's relentlessly overplayed and undermixed.
With high hopes of seeing another Gillian Flynn adaptation become the next 'Gone Girl,' I'm disappointed to announce that this is the worst movie that I've reviewed in some time. Playing out like a cheap and predictable murder mystery with characters so flat that not even the Oscar-winning cast can do anything with it, it's a painful viewing experience. The video quality is passable, the lossless audio track is mixed bag and a duo of decent special features are included, but nothing can rescue 'Dark Places' from its terrible plot, story and characters. There's reason that 'Dark Places' originally debuted On Demand, but frankly I'm surprised that it didn't debut on Redbox: the place many bad movies begin and end.