Adaptation Dark Places

'Dark Places' Film Review: 'Gone Girl' follow-up doesn't quite measure up

August 7, 2015Ben MK

Last summer, director David Fincher helped make author Gillian Flynn a household name with Gone Girl, a story about a man (Ben Affleck) suspected in the sudden disappearance of his wife. Now comes its follow-up, writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner's Dark Places, a thriller that finds Affleck's Reindeer Games co-star, Charlize Theron, embroiled in a mystery of her own, playing a woman out to solve the crime that has haunted her and her family for decades.

Based on Flynn's 2009 bestselling novel of the same name, Dark Places stars Theron as Libby Day, survivor of a 1985 multiple homicide that has gone on to live in infamy as the "Kansas Prairie Massacre." Now, nearly three decades since the night her mother (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters were brutally slaughtered, Libby begins to question the guilt of her incarcerated brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), who was convicted for the shocking murders thanks to her eye-witness testimony. And with the help of true-crime fanatic Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult, re-teaming with Theron in the wake of Mad Max: Fury Road) and a group of underground sleuths calling themselves "The Kill Club," she embarks on a dangerous and disturbing quest to uncover the identity of the true culprit.

On paper, Dark Places has all the makings of a compelling murder-mystery potboiler: a reluctant heroine cut from the same tormented cloth as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Lisbeth Salander, a storyline that unfolds via a chronologically fractured and ever-shifting narrative, not to mention a constant trickle of twists, turns and familial revelations. Yet, on the screen, things don't come together quite as smoothly, despite the efforts of its admittedly game cast — which also includes Chloë Grace Moretz and Drea de Matteo — whose performances occasionally manage to elevate the film above the contrivances of its own script.

So, where does it all go wrong? Though some will undoubtedly fault the story's clichéd plot devices — which include Devil-worshiping teens, a secret lovechild and an abusive, deadbeat dad — the movie's biggest problem is actually that it's far too workman-like in its execution, a quality that essentially robs the project of any real sense of suspense, let alone palpable tension. After all, it's not easy to keep audiences riveted when your scenes resemble little more than a series of true-crime documentary reenactments, strung together with deadpan voice-over narration and grainy black-and-white flashbacks as seen from an 8-year-old Libby's point-of-view.

For these reasons, Dark Places continually struggles to keep viewers engaged. Not that it ever seems too concerned with doing so in the first place. Instead, Paquet-Brenner appears content with delivering a bland, paint-by-numbers adaptation of Flynn's novel, one that looks to be fairly faithful to its source material, but which all but squanders the cinematic goodwill accrued by the undeniably superior Gone Girl. As for Flynn's debut novel, "Sharp Objects," only time will tell if it still finds its way to the screen; but if and when it does, its first order of business will be earning that goodwill back.

Dark Places releases August 7th, 2015 from Remstar Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for some disturbing violence, language, drug use and sexual content. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 53 Mins.

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