Gillian Flynn's books are a dream material for movie makers. At least they should be, but for some reason the hype and the fame in Hollywood that accompanied Flynn when Gone Girl was released last year appears to be something that sparkled too much, very briefly and intensely, and died. She is reportedly doing HBO series with Fincher, but what of her other books? The most cinematic one, called Sharp Objects was rumored to be in the works to become a TV series but there are no news, there isn't even one casting tidbit. And what about Dark Places?
This film was doomed from the start given that unlike Gone Girl, it was not directed by David Fincher, Instead, French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner helmed the movie. So that's one huge chunk out of hype going out the window. Then the film picked up some attention when the cast members were announced but then it received a kiss of death - which is what I call being acquired by A24.
Honestly, Ex-Machina, this year's very successful indie movie should have had "Successful in spite of being distributed by A24" line plastered all over the posters, cause that right there is this film's biggest accomplishment. I appreciate these people buying movies and releasing them as opposed to never being released, but they are just awful when it comes to marketing. Right now they are sitting on a dynamite of The Witch, a horror which premiered at Sundance to glowing reviews. They should release a creepy trailer. They should announce it is getting released on Halloween. There's nothing. No promo, no poster, no release date in sight until I presume it goes the same way as Dark Places - hits the web and then cinemas 2 months later which makes absolutely no fucking business sense whatsoever.
Dark Places is not a bad movie, but the source material, even if it is Flynn's worst book - the shreds of narrative coming together is stunning to read but the idiotic twist in the end brings the whole story down - deserved so much better. What strikes you when you are watching the movie is that it looks horribly desaturated and cheap. It's like a low budget movie from 80s you catch on TV where its played off old VHS tape. If you knew nothing about the story beforehand, didn't know its based on book from very popular author, chances are you would greatly enjoy it.
But it's simply shocking that an adaptation from one of the hottest authors right now, on the heels of the success of Gone Girl and starring one of the most famous actresses in the world was given so little faith and exposure.
Because faith is exactly what this movie needed and along with it more budget, more guts, more confidence. The story and the characters are right there, ripe for adaptation but the movie needed more of everything. It's so disenchanting seeing the vivid crimson soaked massacre from Flyyn's book replaced by grayish, lifeless footage. It's just heartbreaking seeing the simplification of Krissi Cates' story and not giving Drea de Matteo what could have been the shot of her career - ashamed, sad, broken Krissi hiding her face in her hands like an embarrassed little girl.
The casting is not great but given how cheap the film looks it's not its biggest problem because the cast manages to overcome the problems. Hendricks', for my money the most stunning woman in the World, plays Libby's plain, undesirable mother. The undesirable part was largely omitted in the movie so the strangeness of that casting is not as bad as it could have been, but the character and Hendricks' dedicated work deserved better, especially given the ridiculousness of the character's final decision. Though, to be fair, I'm not sure any amount of screen time could have made that plot point more plausible.
Corey Stoll does well as Libby's imprisoned brother, much better than Tye Sheridan, as the younger version, he doesn't really leave any impression. Chloe Grace Moretz manages not to be awful but is still a far cry from surreal and psychotic Diondra from the book. Andrea Roth, who plays the older version of the character, fares much better, nailing Diondra's aura of mystery and danger.
Matteo doesn't have much to do and her work was basically reduced to playing a stripper - I do like that actress, but let's just say it's not surprising she is getting typecast as this kind of women. The initial plans were for Hendricks to play the part and at least she would be able to channel the memory of Krissi's long lost innocence. Nicholas Hoult is very good as Lyle and him and Theron yet again have great chemistry together.
While Theron overcomes the bizarre casting, it's really a shame we didn't get Libby as she was written - tiny, with huge breasts and her red hair dyed blonde giving the appearance of her skull being on fire. Libby's appearance is not only unique, it serves a purpose of letting us know that what she has been through has been so traumatic, that as an effect she has remained a child - physically - forever. But Theron brilliantly displays her character's numbness disguising rage, hostility disguising pain and distance disguising longing. Theron may not look like Libby but it's evident at least she understood her character well.
In spite of lacking the energy of the book story the movie is very faithful to the novel. Many things were omitted, many were simplified, but at least the chain of the events and the general decisions of the characters remain faithful to Flynn's novel. Even with little budget the movie has very inspired cinematography and gorgeous score. It's a shame that the film didn't go deeper into some of the themes, but at least it includes the mention of Satanism and features few glimpses of paranoia born out of fear of it.
While Dark Places is by no means a bad film, it's nothing memorable either. With the books' disappointing answer to mysteries it would take all the elements here to work splendidly to make a great movie and they don't. But still, the film has really good atmosphere and brings another great performance from Theron.
Dark Places (2015, 113 min)
Plot: Libby Day was only seven years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Twenty-five years later, she agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night.
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Writers: Gillian Flynn (novel), Gilles Paquet-Brenner (screenplay)
Stars: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Houl,
Chloë Grace Moretz,