Dark Places author Gillian Flynn is no stranger to exploring the shadowy side of human nature. After the success of Gone Girl in theaters, many people are anticipating this sophomore outing in films for the rising star author. While it is unlikely to match the almost perfect madness of Gone Girl, there is more than enough to indicate that Dark Places will be a wild ride for psychological thriller fans.
The new film starring Charlize Theron as Libby Day, sole survivor of the gruesome murder of her family 25 years prior, is presented with an opportunity to help a group of true crime obsessives, aptly named “The Kill Club,” uncover the truth of what really happened that fateful night. This triggers a series of flashbacks and an investigation that leads Libby to believe that her brother, whom she had testified against under pressure from lawyers and the media, was actually innocent and the true murderer walked away that day.
The premise is interesting and in the hands of a director more accustomed to risk than Gilles Paquet-Brenner it could really shine on the screen. Unfortunately while Paquet-Brenner is a fine director, he doesn’t have the willingness to try new things with narrative that Fincher did which helped make Gone Girl so good.
The performances, on the other hand, are magnificent. Christina Hendricks playing Patty Day, Libby’s mother, in the flashbacks lends just the right pathos to the character, and both Charlize Theron as Libby and Corey Stoll as her wrongfully imprisoned brother Ben are both sincerely believable. This is after a surprisingly nuanced performance from Stoll in Ant-Man that set him apart from similarly situated villains. Even Nicholas Hoult’s Lyle has a sub-dermal menace to him that is hard to put a finger on but is genuinely disturbing.
The film follows the book fairly closely, which is strange considering Flynn did not write the script like she did with Gone Girl, instead approving the work of Paquet-Brenner who trimmed down a few parts and mixed up the order of things to make it more accessible to the screen. Fans of the books should still be happy with the result that captures the essence of the original. Flynn has given her blessing to the result of Paquet-Brenner’s work, so there’s that at least. And since it’s been available for seven weeks on DirecTV, both fans and critics have also been pleasantly surprised by a very solid adaptation.
It’s difficult not to compare Dark Places with Gone Girl, just as it will be hard not to throw Sharp Objects, Flynn’s third novel in the cycle, into the mix when it premieres. The most glaring difference is that Dark Places is far more straight forward of a novel and movie. It doesn’t have the twists and turns that made Gone Girl such a standout. While it also has a very strongly written woman in the lead, Libby doesn’t discover something that forces us to dramatically reframe her actions the way that we had to with Amy. We’re allowed to keep liking her, but nothing is there to shock us. We’re given the pieces to the puzzle in both films, and it’s fun to put them together, but in Dark Places it just turns out to be the picture on the box.
There is very little doubt that fans of Gone Girl and psychological thrillers in general will still enjoy Dark Places. It doesn’t have the same punch and the direction is more timid, but the performances make it worth every heart wrenching minute.