Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)

If you’re a fan of author Gillian Flynn’s work, Dark Places may be a film you’ll want to check out on Netflix. Based off Flynn’s novel from 2009 under the same title, Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult, and Chloe Grace Moretz star in this dark drama surrounding the mysterious night that massacred a family. While I don’t believe this movie is on the same level of Flynn’s other book that became a film, Gone Girl; I do think that if you’re wanting a twisted story that you should check it out.

SPOILERS

When we first meet Theron’s Libby Day, she’s not in a very good place. As the only survivor of a massacre on her family that left her mother and two sisters dead and her brother in prison for the crime, Libby is not doing too well. It is alluded that she’s most likely remained in the same town her whole life and decided not to do much with her life, instead just going through the motions. Hard on money, she decides to take up a proposal by Hoult’s Lyle Wirth.

Lyle is a part of a club obsessed with true crime stories, one of which being Libby’s tragic past. At first, it seems a little strange to see a group of people essentially poking and prodding at Libby, enthralled with what happened to her and her family as if it were all fiction. I then realized we as a society are obsessed with real-life crime. On top of the ID channel, we have documentaries like Making a Murderer, and as obsessed as we are with all this, we never stop to think that what makes an interesting story is literally the worst nightmare for the victims.

Theron is able to really convey a woman who is fully weighed down by what happened to her family, beaten down by life. In need of money, Libby decides to work alongside Lyle, who isn’t into the club for the sick thrill of it, but rather wanting to clear her brother’s name, as he believes Ben Day did not commit the murders that he’s been imprisoned for 28 years for. Libby seems unsure, considering her testimony was what really helped put Ben away for life. Lyle is convinced that Ben is innocent, though; so Libby begins investigating.

The Ben we see in flashbacks is different than the Ben we see in the present day. Corey Stoll portrays Ben in prison, overjoyed that his little sister has finally decided to visit him. Not only is he forgiving and patient, but virtually admits that he is innocent, but doesn’t make any attempt at appeal. Young Ben is played by Tye Sheridan, who is a seemingly normal teen, but due to him liking metal music is made into a “satanist” by the small, rural town. It doesn’t help that his girlfriend is batshit crazy and clearly one of those people who are so bored that they need to take someone down with them. But, besides Ben being a little rebellious, he tutors children, and is happy at the prospect of becoming a father, as his girlfriend Diondra (Moretz) is pregnant.

The satanic plotline in the movie is a little out of place. It seemed in the film to be a lazy explanation as to why the teens are disliked so much in the town, as well as giving a “motive” as to why Ben would kill his family. There’s one disturbing scene with Diondra where she gleefully kills a cow, all in the name of Satan. If I were Ben, I would have run right at that moment.

But, Ben is looking out for his unborn child. This need to protect his kin is what essentially leads him to taking the fall for the crime and the real murderer is not what you would have expected. I won’t spoil too much in case you do go to watch the movie, but it really ties into the mother’s storyline, played by Hendricks. Patty Day is a kind mother of four, who even present-day Ben and Libby discuss how good she was. Unfortunately, Patty is not rich and is raising four children. Her ex-husband is a deadbeat who only wants to take from her, there’s a scandal that threatens to break up the family, and she’s just sad, with seemingly no way to make it better.

Dark Places is a sad movie telling the tale of a downtrodden family plagued by a singular event that was just the result of so many little factors. Theron plays Libby like a little girl in a grown-up body; still saddened, without anywhere to go, and closed off from the rest of the world. You find yourself really disliking Moretz’s Diondra, which means the actress did a good job, as she is meant to be a villain in this story. While Diondra symbolizes so much evil, Hoult’s Lyle was a shining star that you expected to have another motive to wanting to get Ben released, but it never happened. He was just a nice guy that Libby needed in her life. It would have been nice to see adult Ben and Diondra interact or even just more of Ben, but the story wasn’t so much about Ben, but what happened because of Ben, or what we’re meant to think happened because of him.

Dark Places was not promoted or spoken of in the way of Gone Girl, even though the latter movie was a success and came out a year before Dark Places. And while Gone Girl brought in a big name with Ben Affleck, Dark Places had the likes of Charlize Theron and Christina Hendricks attached to it. While it is not as intense as Gone Girl, there are still many factors within the movie, and certain things that happened were unexpected. Like Gone Girl, we are solving a mystery and wondering if justice will be served, even though we know the reality of the situation.

If you’re a fan of Flynn’s work, you should still check out Dark Places. It’s available on Netflix and worth a watch.