After the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl adaptation last year, many were betting that another of her novels adapted into film would be met with similar outcomes. Although Dark Places featured renowned actors and actresses whose previous roles were well received, the film didn’t quite generate similar outcomes as its predecessor.
Mad Max: Fury Road’s Charlize Theron stars as Libby Day, a woman who has been scarred for life from witnessing the brutal murders of her family when she was a child. Dark Places seeks to take viewers on a journey through the broken life of a victim as she tries to piece together what really happened to her family years ago. She is pulled into the mystery by Lyle Wirth (played by Nicholas Hoult) and his “Kill Club,” who believe Libby’s brother Ben - who was tried and convicted of the murders - is really innocent. At first, Libby wants little to do with re-hashing the tragedy, but she needs money and Lyle is offering it for her help.
Libby is soon exposed to previously unknown family secrets: her brother being accused of child molestation just before the murders took place and having a secret girlfriend that he got pregnant, and that her mother was about to lose the family farm and was spiraling into an extreme depression. Unearthing the past may have dire consequences for Libby, but she seems to have no choice but to see it all through until the end.
While not a completely terrible film, Dark Places suffers from a lack of details and complexity that would replicate that of the original novel. Many of the characters are introduced only briefly and with very little explanation, and oftentimes would disappear just as quickly as they appeared. The Kill Club is only on screen once, with Lyle given just a few more appearances than that. For a group of people so set on proving a man’s innocence and finding out the truth of what happened the night Libby Day’s family was murdered, you’d expect them to have a lot more involvement in the story. Ben’s girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz and Andrea Roth) really should have more screen time, as she is more integral to the story than the Kill Club and Lyle, but even she is relegated to flashbacks from Ben’s point-of-view and a short scene with adult Libby. Although the film featured many talented and well-rounded actors and actresses, it seemed as though the roles they were given failed to show their best quality performance.
But aside from passing up real character-building moments, Dark Places also suffers from the nonexistent build-up of tension, suspense, or mystery. The intercut flashbacks to the past make for a dull and confusing narrative flow that almost doesn’t exist and that fails to explain why the audience should care about it. And this is what the whole movie unsuccessfully attempts to do. We are not given any reason to care about the characters as they are mainly used as plot devices to keep the story going and thus, we lose our sense of empathy for them.
Perhaps another reason why it failed in the box office is the lack of marketing for the film. Since it was released to be watched on VOD thanks to a collaborated effort between A24 and DirecTV, before the actual premiere date, those who watched it didn’t bother to go to the theaters. And those who wanted to view the film, never actually saw commercials or posters for it. Either way, no matter how many people ventured to the theaters, Dark Places ultimately failed at giving us the same profundity and depth of character that Gone Girl had last year. The original witty Libby in the novel was lost, but let’s hope Camille in Flynn’s Sharp Objects television show, will redeem her.