DARK PLACES Review — Charlize Theron Meets Gillian Flynn

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Dark Places ReviewBy Staci Layne Wilson
@StaciWilson
I have a major girl crush on author Gillian Flynn. She’s only written three novels, but I’ve read them all twice and can. not. wait. for her fourth! She’s a genius at combining the beloved beach-read with the classic winter’s night thriller. Her first book, Gone Girl, was made into a hit at the box office last year – she wrote the screenplay, and David Fincher directed the action.  Now her second adaptation is on the big screen in limited release, and due to come out on DVD on Oct. 6.  This one is written and helmed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

Here’s the gist: Twenty-eight years after testifying against her brother Ben (Corey Stoll) as the person responsible for massacring her entire family, haunted Libby Day (Charlize Theron) is approached by a secret society that specializes in complex, unsolved murder cases. Sort of a vigilante Innocence Project. At first Libby refuses to deny her testimony, but little by little Lyle (Nicholas Hoult) and his cohorts chip away at her resolve, forcing her to face harsh truths – and causing her to hunt down the real killer of her mother (Christina Hendricks) and two younger sisters (Natalie Precht and Madison McGuire). The film switchbacks between present day and the 1980s, just like the novel.

Gilles Paquet-Brenner never met a claustrophobic woman-in-peril movie he didn’t like. He’s made a career of them, it seems. I’ve seen Pretty Things (2001, starring Marion Cotillard as teched twins) and Walled In (2009, starring Mischa Barton as a demolition engineer tasked with felling a phantom-infested building) and found them both frustratingly pedestrian given the interesting subject matter. He definitely has a knack for finding amazing tales to adapt (his features tend to be based on novels), but his execution is lacking. Sadly, Dark Places is no exception. Flynn’s tome, alive with suspense, deserves so much better than this by the numbers who-actually-dunnit. (If you haven’t read “Dark Places” yet, and you want to see the movie, please do yourself a huge favor and read the source material first!)

Theron’s performance is excellent (when is it not?) and the supporting cast is up to the task, despite being given very little to work from. Unfortunately, everyone’s nuance is buried by an egregiously overwrought soundtrack – if you’re watching Dark Places on VOD, you will have to turn on the captions in order to catch all the muddled dialogue.

Overall, I’m glad I saw Dark Places and it’s not a total disappointment. It touches on the 80s “Satanic panic” hysteria, bringing to mind real-life controversial cases like The McMartin Preschool trial and the West Memphis Three murder convictions.  It’s still twisty (thanks to Flynn’s agile mind) in spite of it contrivances (no thanks to Paquet-Brenner). And the acting is all aces – while book Libby was dowdy and Theron decidedly is not, she’s good enough to pull off the gradations of the character and make her believable and watchable.

Rated R
Running Time: 113 minutes

Get times and tickets at Fandango.com.

DARK PLACES Review — Charlize Theron Meets Gillian Flynn

 

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on StaciLayneWilson.com

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