Dark Places
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Dark Places

There is a slippery slope heaven in a mystery. The author needs to provide sufficient clues intertwined with plausible misdirection in order to keep the audience adequately intrigued. Unfortunately with the latest migration of a Gillian Flynn novel screen, ‘Dark Places’, the actual mystery finds itself trapped in a morass of distractions that make it difficult if not impossible for the viewer to form an emotional bond with the protagonist. Unlike the recent success of Ms. Flynn’s other novel, ‘Gone Girl’, the plot here is obfuscated to the precipice of being insipid. The movie was adapted as a screenplay and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner was been exploring both the hardware and mystery genres his latest films. His previous mystery, ‘Sarah’s Key’, exhibited extensively tighter unfolding of the story fall more stylistic direction. His most recent offering in horror, ‘Walled In’, was a solid but nevertheless predictable phobic terror opus. This is fairly common results for a burgeoning filmmaker still experimenting as means of artistic expression. Upon a second viewing I realized that some of the aspects of the film that previously came across in a derogatory fashion were actually stylistic choices intended to imbue the movie with an intentionally somber mood. Once I approached the movie with that in mind I found that I was able to better appreciate what I felt the filmmaker was trying to convey to the audience. It must be remembered that every movie has to contain bright and upbeat moments. The film is supposed to depict the emotional vantage point of an extremely traumatized woman it is understandable that it should be more morose than most audiences expect. Immersing myself in the film without frame of mind I could appreciate the goal of bringing the viewer to the psychological mindset of a woman who has not known joy in life.

As a child Libby Day (Charlize Theron), one of the worst possible dramatic events; watching as her Patty (Christina Hendricks) and two of sisters, Michelle (Natalie Precht) and Debby (Madison McGuire) were brutally slaughtered. Adding to the trauma the young Libby came to testify against her teenage brother, Ben (Corey Stoll). It is been almost 30 years later understandably that events have left irreparable psychological scars with Libby. During that time, the 80s, it was a generalized fear of influence of satanic cults as being responsible for the rise of vicious murders and rapes, especially those crimes involve young children. Ben had been found guilty by the media for this trial even officially began. The newspapers took the location of Kansas farmland as a rationale to adopt the killings ‘The Prairie Murders ‘and the prosecutor was under inordinate pressure to obtain a conviction resulting in exacerbating the emotional damage to this young girl by forcing her to testify against her big brother.

We slide to time some 30 years with the adult Libby remains traumatized by a turbulent past. She encounters a group of amateur investigators refer to themselves as the ‘The Kill Club’ wish to satisfy their own morbid curiosity by reopening the investigation on their own. Their conjecture has led them to the conclusion that Ben was innocent successfully framed for the murders. Killing the need to atone for a testimony against the broker, Libby agrees to help despite the fact that this will result in some of the most painful childhood memories possible. It also subjects it’s a very strong possibility that her childhood recollections perspective does not come close to encapsulating what actually happened. The major ‘evidence’ that her brother was part of the satanic cult was his predilection towards being dark and moody. Considering he was a teenage boy giving the rather isolated existence of rural Kansas associating him for such a cult was exceptionally simplistic, prejudicial and completely insufficient to convict him.

Libby and managed to earn a living on the royalties from the books you wrote about the childhood horror but that source of income has diminished to an inconsequential level. At one point there was substantial donation from concerned people but time and expenses has pleaded that as well. Now, she discovers that she has to earn a living for the first time in her life.

That is still languishing under the death penalty, is hopeful for exoneration steadily evaporating. Many of the members of the Kill Club strongly believe that he was railroaded seek to obtain a successful appeal. They offer Libby a substantial amount of money for her cooperation in answering questions asked by the club. She realizes that this will rip open many old psychological scars and emotional pain which she has reached the point of financial desperation. Revisiting the past such a detailed fashion has ignited within her need to find the truth for herself. Libby still maintains that her brother was guilty so she was risking the one solace she had the whole experience that she was not part of falsely convicting her brother. Her Involvement with the Kill Club did intensify her own need to re-examine the case, no matter how emotionally devastating the process may be.

The original novel by Gillian Flynn obviously provided potential for interesting characters and absorbing situations but unfortunately this does not translate well the filmmaker’s screenplay. Ms. Theron once again demonstrates her willingness to downplay unnatural grace and beauty for the sake of bringing gritty realism to her portrayal. Such tactics did help earn her an Academy Award for Best Actress for the 2003 film ‘Monster’ and later an Oscar nomination for ‘North Country’. There is certainly no doubt about her dedication to craft how she has carefully nurtured her natural talent and abilities. It is just that this character, Libby Day is so seriously damaged psychologically and in emotional black hole that there is little opportunity for Ms. Theron to go anywhere of the character. Another piece of interesting casting is Chloë Grace Moretz is the younger version of Ben’s girlfriend, Diondra, the role taken over as an adult by Andrea Roth.

Much of the potential is misplaced in the editing room as the narrative switches back and forth between the two dominant time periods. While it is possible to maintain the requisite suspense while employing this technique this goal was not achieved in this instance. The disruption of the story’s flow also had the unfortunate side effect of disrupting the crucial ability to build suspense without this is difficult for the audience to maintain the proper concentration. As mentioned it is a necessity for the story to be dark and even gloomy. It would not be honest to the events or the theme of the film if depicted in any other fashion. Still, when the inherent mood of the film is a ponderous nature, it is well advised to provide some respite for the audience. One plot thread for at least a few scenes containing a lighter feel would give the audience an opportunity to better appreciate how dire Libby’s life has been. Even if the point is to demonstrate the woman in the bottom of a dark role of despair most people in the audience will respond better it reminded they have the advantage of a less pessimistic viewpoint.

bullet"Bringing 'Dark Places' to Light" Featurette
bullet"About the Author: Gillian Flynn & 'Dark Places'" Featurette

Posted 10/17/2015

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