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article imageReview: ‘Dark Places’ is an evocative well of deceit and despair

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 7, 2015 in Entertainment
‘Dark Places’ is another complex whodunit from the pages of Gillian Flynn, this time tackling the consequences of small town anxiety and the difficulties of facing a tragic past.
Childhood trauma is often accompanied by deep regret. Moving forward is difficult, but one way is to accept what happened and in some cases, convince yourself you did everything that was in your power at the time. Revisiting those long past events, whatever the cause, can be as upsetting as the original incident — or it can reveal hidden truths that provide a new perspective on the affair, which were never considered or purposely concealed. Dark Places centres on such a mystery in which hindsight makes all the difference.
Libby Day (Charlize Theron) was eight years old when her mother (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters were killed in their home. Her brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), was convicted of their murders and has been in jail ever since. In the meantime, Libby lived off the money sent by strangers to help the lonely survivor of a horrific tragedy. Thirty years later the fund is empty and Libby is incapable of supporting herself, having used people’s generosity to avoid the world rather than become an active part of it. Her fan mail now consists of one letter offering her a small sum to speak with a local crime solving club. However, the invitation is a ruse to give the group’s leader, Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), an opportunity to convince Libby to cooperate in a new investigation into her brother’s case.
There are many layers to Libby’s story, most of which even she was unaware of since she never revisited any aspect of the incident outside of her nightmares. Initially she is very hesitant to participate beyond answering the club’s questions, but desperation compels her to get physically involved while trying to keep her emotions separate. Having been so young, there are numerous occurrences that simply went over a child’s head. But each new discovery draws her deeper into the enquiry and soon she is conducting her own research and following new leads, including tracking down estranged family members and Ben’s former acquaintances. Nonetheless, Libby’s reluctance to join in is understandable because any information that conflicts with the accepted account forces her to confront her own issues and failures. As Ben comments, she’s built and trapped herself in a prison of her own that she can’t escape.
Tye Sheridan in a scene from  Dark Places
Tye Sheridan in a scene from 'Dark Places'
Remstar Films
The underlying narrative is a thought-provoking exploration of the “Satanic panic” of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The most prevalent true story of injustice is the West Memphis Three, in which three young men were convicted of murder using their admiration of heavy metal and suspected devil worship as key evidence. Their story has been chronicled in the documentary trilogy, Paradise Lost, as well as other films. This movie takes a fictitious approach to the same subject matter. Ben’s rebellious attitude, taste in music, newly dyed, shaggy black hair and former complaints make him an easy target in the small town, prompting the police to limit their investigation from the beginning. The evolution of his guilt is as astonishing as the number of people involved in its establishment.
The final revelations are somewhat startling, but the path to their discovery is a complex web of lies and heartache that grips audiences until the final stone is unturned. Based on a novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, it has all the twists, drama and bombshells one would expect. Though the outstanding, genuine performances that bring these damaged characters to life is what truly sets the film apart.
Theron personifies Libby’s struggles with confronting her past and the impact it’s had on her life. In spite of relying on people’s sympathies she attempts to remain anonymous and aloof, hardening herself against anything else the world may throw at her; this is the dominant trait that underlies Theron’s convincing depiction. The film also reunites her with Hoult, her Mad Max: Fury Road co-star. His character is generally on the sidelines, prompting Libby to delve deeper into the mystery. He serves as her arms-length support throughout the inquiry, but is not integral after the first act. Stoll has an interesting role as his character is at the centre of the story, though he is not on screen for the majority of the film. Much of his story is told in flashbacks, where Ben is played by Tye Sheridan, who persuasively portrays a moody teen with a big heart who may have fallen in with the wrong crowd, including his unruly girlfriend (Chloë Grace Moretz). Stoll adapts Ben’s younger personality into a believable adult version of the character. And even though Hendricks appears to play one of the tale’s victims, her role in the thriller becomes increasingly intriguing as the film progresses.
The powerfully striking crime drama screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival prior to opening theatrically on August 7.
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Corey Stoll
More about dark places, Charlize theron, nicholas hoult, corey stoll, Christina hendricks
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