By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

I was rather disappointed to get the news that this satisfactory mystery drama would not be getting a theatrical release because I feel the theater experience really adds to the mood of this dark and compelling movie.  Now available on DirecTV VOD though, Dark Places is a solid examination of past evil deeds and how some seemingly harmless rumors can escalate and change the destinies of all involved.  Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), this adaptation by Gilles Paquet-Brenner features sublime performances by Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult.  The movie may not offer audiences anything brilliantly unique, but it does make for 113 minutes of engrossing drama. 

Theron stars as Libby Day, the only member of the Day family who managed to survive a horrifying slaying of her mother and sisters that occurred twenty-five years ago. The only witness to the events, seven-year-old Libby testified in court that her brother Ben (Tye Sheridan) and his Satanic cult were responsible.  As an adult barely scraping by in life and still haunted by her past, Libby very reluctantly agrees to assist a group of true crime enthusiasts who have further investigated into the murders.  Led by Lyle Wirth (Hoult), the group believes that the long time imprisoned Ben (Corey Stoll) has been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the crimes.  As Libby tries to remember the events of that fateful night and helps Lyle with the investigation, she uncovers way more than she had anticipated.

Though not as impressive and shocking as Gone Girl, Dark Places is a descent follow-up adaptation film by Paquet-Brenner.  Because I have not read the novel by Flynn, I don’t know exactly how faithful Paquet-Brenner remains to the material, nor do I know how obvious and transparent the truth is in the book.  In the film, it doesn’t take very long before the big reveal is a bit obvious and pretty easy to figure out.  This is my biggest complaint with the film.  I feel that the filmmaker should have made this mystery somewhat more challenging for the audience.  The film still manages to offer some surprises and thrills and certainly does have an enthralling story with superb character development.  Flynn and Paquet-Brenner also offer an insightful look on damaging tendencies of human nature and a critical commentary on poverty and the plight of small American farms.  The movie also boasts an outstanding cast.

I previously praised both Theron and Hoult, who are the driving heart and soul of the film, but the film also features some excellent performances by Christina Hendricks, Tye Sheridan, Corey Stoll, Chloe Grace-Moretz, and Sean Bridgers.  Hendricks, who is fresh off the success of her run on the TV series Mad Men, delivers a wonderful turn as Patty Day, the hard working and sad matriarch of the Day family.  Tye Sheridan, who has already impressed audiences with his exceptional work in Mud and Joe, continues to show why filmmakers want to work with this talented young man.  The equally talented Chloe Grace-Moretz also gets to show her acting range as the highly disturbed troublemaker Diondra.  As the older and wiser, prison-worn version of Ben, Corey Stoll delivers a solid turn, but doesn’t get enough screen time to really stretch his chops.  Nevertheless, he makes a fine addition to a talented cast who all perform wonderfully.

Despite its flaws, I would have actually recommended seeing this movie theatrically.  Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s adept direction, the engaging story by Gillian Flynn, and the praise-worthy acting make this film definitely worth watching.  For my readers who have DirecTV, this is a movie not to miss.  Dark Places is currently available only through DirecTV VOD, For those who don’t subscribe to the satellite service, I’m sure the movie will eventually get released on Blu-Ray and DVD.

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