Movie Review: Dark Places

Dark Places opts to play it safe, resulting into a bland potboiler with shallow characterization and convenient twists that wastes the viable elements of its source material.

Libby Day (Charlize Theron), a survivor of her family’s murder 25 years ago, has milked her tragedy for what its worth. Broke and desperate, she agrees to help a group of true-crime aficionados to re-examine the case. As she digs deeper into her past, Libby is forced to question her side of the story that sent her teen brother to prison.

As what you would expect from a former writer of Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Flynn makes another satirical jab at our twisted fascination with tragedy turned tabloid fodder in Dark Places.

The movie adaptation’s cinematography is able to evoke a moody atmosphere through shadow filtered visuals that matches Libby’s scowl.

Dark Places tackles the premise head-on with Charlize Theron who always proves to be reliable (even with a poorly written script – see: Snow White and The Huntsman). She’s convincing as the standoffish yet emotionally scarred Libby Day. Theron is able to convey a range of emotions – vulnerability, subdued anger, detachment – with little dialogue.

Unfortunately, the story and its characters aren’t taken much further as Gilles Paquet-Brenner preferred to keep it safe.

Dark Places doesn’t take Libby’s twisted celebrity status and her character to any truly dark places, even when the stage is nicely set-up by the source material. Libby has milked her tragedy for all its worth, enabling her to live while preventing her to move on at the same time. She is survivor of the month in a Kill Club composed of people who live vicariously through the tragedy of others. She does her own detective work for a personal investigation that revolves around the classic small town story – an image of a quiet rural town whose real threats are as ordinary as its landscape.

Instead the movie devolves into a bland potboiler where red herrings are replaced by improbable detours. We’re introduced to a number of forgettable stock characters. Vague flashbacks become revealing recollections to serve the narrative. There’s a nifty twist here thanks to the source material, but you’d have to sit through an uneventful plot.

Dark Places is a sophomore slump to the polarizing yet wildly successful Gone Girl. If David Fincher had taken the director’s seat again, I’d have no doubt we’d get something far better. Unfortunately, Paquet-Brenner dilutes the source material into a mediocre thriller.

My Rating: 4/10

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