Yeah … there’s a reason why this one isn’t playing at your local Cineplex.
I really, really liked last year’s “Gone Girl.” The eponymous character -- the Doogie-Howser slaying cinematic psycho bitch to end all cinematic psycho bitches -- was one of the best film villains to come around in ages. Furthermore, it was probably the only mainstream movie of the year to feature a robotic puppy as a prominent plot device, which automatically makes it worth the admission price in my eyes.
“Dark Places” is a film in a somewhat similar vein. It’s based on a book written by the same author of “Gone Girl,” only this time, instead of being helmed by David Fincher, we’ve got some dude named “Gilles” weaving the narrative for us, and needless to say, we’re not exactly in the hands of a master storyteller this time around.
With a pretty big name cast -- Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks and Chloe Mortz-Grace round out the leads -- it’s a bit surprising that this flick didn’t get a wide-scale theatrical release. After watching it, however, I can see why. Simply put, “Dark Places” just isn’t a very good movie.
That’s not to say it’s a terrible movie, however. It has its moments, but they are few and far-between. As a psychological thriller, it’s really predictable, then it goes completely off the rails with one of the most absurd “twist” endings in recent Hollywood history. This is a movie that tries insanely hard to be a David Fincher production, but it just can’t pull off the “Gone Girl” meets “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” vibe it so desperately wanted to convey.
The basic plotline goes a little like this. Charlize Theron -- who spends 75 percent of the movie silently sucking on a cigarette with a baseball cap socked over her head -- plays a 40-year-old woman whose entire family was slain in the middle of the night. Her older brother -- your stereotypical mid-80s metal head -- was arrested and charged with their murders, naturally.
Over the years, Theron’s been kept afloat by donations from well-wishers. Of course, at the beginning of the film, her accountant tells her she’s about to go broke, which goads her into answering a letter from something called a “Kill Club,” which turns out to be this really weird subculture of ravers, cosplayers and LARPers who like to hang out in abandoned meat packing plants and solve cold cases. Anyway, a whole bunch of them think her brother was wrongly blamed for the crimes, and offer her some much-needed dough to revisit the case and recant her testimony.
And so begins the long, unwinding journey, which rather unskillfully merges a dual present-and-past narrative. We come to find out that Theron’s mama -- played by Christina Hendricks -- is about to lose the farm (literally) and her estranged husband (played by some dude who REALLY looks like an anorexic Mick Foley) is one crazy sumbitch. Meanwhile, Theron’s older brother is out and about smoking weed and listening to Slayer, and he’s got this one rich Goth chick (Chloe) pregnant and his best pal wants him to do drugs with him and kill cows in the name of Lucifer. Oh, and if that’s not enough, there’s another subplot about all the girls in the local middle school accusing Theron’s brothers of diddling them, so we can safely add about six or seven irked parents to the list of potential murder suspects.
So while the past slowly comes together for us, Theron drives around in her late ‘80s model sedan and revisits pretty much all of the people who could have possibly killed her mama and two sisters. Her dad is a drunk who lives inside a nuclear reactor, and the girl who lied about her brother fondling her is now a stripper at a bar in Kansas City. Eventually, we come to find out that the girl her brother knocked up is living under an assumed “porno” name in Kearney, Missouri.
If I tell you any more about the movie, it would ruin the “surprise ending.” So yeah, I guess I will go right on ahead and do that.
So, who really killed Theron’s brood? Well, it wasn’t her brother, it was this dude known as the “Angel of Debt,” a sort of proto-Jack Kevorkian who ran around the Midwest offering to “murder” people so their families could collect the insurance money. Oh, and the rich Goth chick strangled one of Theron’s sisters. We learn that after one of the worst “catch as catch can” finales I’ve seen in a recent mainstream film.
Now folks, I’ve seen some audience-insulting finales in my day, but this one has got to be one of the absolute worst I’ve encountered … well, probably ever. So, we’re given this wild and woolly cast of maniacs and madmen, and at the last second, you just shoehorn in this shotgun-and-bowie-knife-for-hire? That’s like “12 Years a Slave” concluding with Solomon Northup being rescued by Godzilla. Yeah, it’s definitely a surprise, but it’s a surprise no one could have logically predicted -- in short, it's the biggest sin you can commit in a murder-mystery movie.
“Dark Places,” despite the title, doesn’t impact you on the same level as “Gone Girl.” In fact, it doesn’t even come close. After that Gillian Flynn adaptation ended, I questioned the sanity of my significant other for about a day or two -- that's a sure-fire sign that a film made an impression on you if there ever was one. After “Dark Places” concluded, I just kind of sat there, wanting to check my work e-mails. There were no lengthy discussions with my girlfriend about “uh, you wouldn’t get revenge on me for cheating by faking your own death, would you?,” just unimpressed silence. It wasn’t even that depressing or disheartening. It was just, for lack of a better term, blah.
The film is moderately entertaining, I suppose. It keeps you involved, but as soon as the big reveal happens, you just feel gypped. There’s no point to re-watch the flick, since everything up until the last 15 minutes was just a red herring anyway. Even worse, nobody turns in a memorable, or even hammy, performance. Everything -- the plot, the acting, and even the soundtrack -- seems painfully forced in awkwardly positioned. Nobody involved in its production seemed to have any kind of confidence in it, and that careless attitude permeates the film like holes in a block of Swiss cheese.
There was a lot of potential with the premise. It could’ve been a solid “Satanic Panic”/West Memphis Three-inspired potboiler, but those elements seem hideously tacked on in “Dark Places.” Ultimately, we wind up with an incredibly lifeless, plastic “thriller” best summarized by Theron’s amazingly disinterested main character.
I mean, if she doesn’t care about her own plight, we should we as viewers?
Two Tofu Dogs out of Four.