Gilles Paquet-Brenner directed this 2015 mystery thriller based off of Gillian Flynn’s novel “Dark Places”; the film stars some well known names including:
- Charlize Theron as “Libby Day”
- Sterling Jerins as “Young Libby Day”
- Corey Stoll as “Ben Day”
- Ty Sheridan as “Young Ben Day”
- Christina Hendricks as “Patty Day”
- Madison Mcguire as “Debby Day”
- Natalia Pretch as “Michelle Day”
- Sean Ridges as “Runner Day”
- Andrea Roth as “Diondra”
- Chloe Grace Mortez as “Young Diondra”
- Nicholas Halt as “Lyle Wirth”
- Drea De Matteo as “Krissi Cates”
- Addy Miller as “Young Krissi Cates”
The film begins in Kansas 1985 where young Libby is agreeing to her brother Ben murdering their mother and two sisters; then the film flashes back to the present day where Libby, now older, is in debt because she has no money left from people who use to donate money to the young orphan girl. So as she is in desperate need for money, when she comes across Lyle Wirth who will give her money in exchange for her going to his ‘Kill club’ and sharing news about her past, she doesn’t refuse his offer for $700.
Back to 1985, where Ben is sat at the breakfast table with his 3 sisters, and Michelle teases him for being a loner, despite him hanging round with a satanist believer called Trey. Also the audience learn that Patty (their mother) is struggling to keep their family farm going, as their father walked out on them as young children.
Libby finds out that many people at Lyle Wirth’s club believe Ben is innocent and he didn’t kill her family, he was only charged because of Libby’s testimony. As she continues to go to the club in order to get money, Lyle persuades her to go and visit Ben, after not seeing him since the day of her family’s murder. When she is there, they talk and she sees a tattoo named “Polly” on his arm; this is something she is interested in finding out more.
It’s not until another flashback, where the audience see the accusations of Ben being a child molester, where Patty goes to one of the girl’s house (Krissi Cates) who claims that Ben had touched her inappropriately and tells Patty that her family will go to hell. Patty then feels that she has failed her kids and says they would be better off without her. As she arrives home, Runner Day is there demanding her money and threatening to take her Grandmother’s necklace, it’s clear that he is abusive and aggressive.
Meanwhile, Ben is with his pregnant girlfriend at the time called Diondra, who are planning to runaway together. Then in the present day, Libby locates Runner living in a homeless centre, who tells her that Diondra, (Ben’s girlfriend at the time) was pregnant. She also finds Krissi Cates, that tells her the truth about Ben who didn’t do anything and that she had made it all up.
In 1985, Patty meets with a stranger in the middle of the night who explains that he can help her out; not until later in the film that he is known as “Angel of debt” a serial killer that murders people for money. The audience see Patty go home after signing some paper, and hiding money in a box. In the meantime, Diondra and Ben go back to Ben’s house to get money to escape all the accusations of him being a child molester, but Ben’s sister Michelle overhears them and Diondra suddenly begins to viciously choke her. Ben is distracted by a gunshot coming from Angel Of Debt who has appeared and stabbed Patty, shot Debby and then left. When he goes back into the room with Diondra and Michelle, his sister is dead because Diondra had choked/killed her; however, Libby manages to runaway.
In the present day, Libby meets with Diondra and sees Ben’s daughter, they explain it all to her and shocked by it, she goes to the bathroom, finding her mother’s necklace. Libby receives a call from Lyle, who says they have solved the case linking Angel Of Debt to her family’s murder, so she tries to leave the house but is attacked by Diondra and her daughter on the way. When she regains her consciousness, she manages to escape and finds Lyle in the woods.
The film ends on Libby and Ben apologising to one another, which Ben says he confessed to the murder as a means of protecting Diondra and their child; a news report reveals Diondra being arrested for the murder in 1985, whilst Libby returns to her old family home/farm.
I found the film went through endless flashbacks with two different narratives, the one where it’s the current day investigation and then inter-cut with Libby Day remembering events that had happened leading up to the murder. Therefore, making it seem like there was no protagonist in the film as she was simply a listener to someone that told her more about her past than she could even remember; so she never truly solved the case on her own, like what the audience would have expected.
My favourite scene out of the whole of the film has to be when the two narratives combine, and the audience are watching young Libby running away from the house were her family was murdered, with the present day narrative of her running away from Diondra and her daughter. Here, I liked how well structured it was as the two events interlinked perfectly and was a good outcome for when she finally realises the truth about what happened that night. Then when she is crying on the floor in the woods, combined with her crying in the chicken pen when she was younger, made the audience cry as well as, for the reason that the audience can see how she has transformed from a little vulnerable girl, to now a woman who knows the truth. Which the transition of diegetic sounds of her brother Ben screaming her name to Lyle Wirth screaming her name was so smooth that it emphasised how she was just a young girl when her family were taken away from her and has lived with pain and many questions to what exactly had happened, to now acknowledging that she no longer has to live through it all.
However, in my opinion “Dark Places” took a while to finally allow the audience to understand what had happened because it seemed like as Libby couldn’t recall what had happened, the audience couldn’t even, resulting in us feeling as if we are in the same situation as her. Which made it difficult as the film evolved around her figuring stuff out and then the audience were meant to put the information together to solve the ending; as it is classified as a mystery film.
However, it was difficult in doing so, as there were many suspects who could have committed the crime, like Runner for instance; he was aggressive and abusive in many of the flashbacks, hinting at the fact that he couldn’t stand Patty for keeping money from him when he desperately needed it, so he killed her and the children in anger/revenge. Or possibly Diondra, as she acted quite strange throughout and seemed sneaky in the sense that she wanted Ben to run away with her after receiving calls about him being a child molester even before he knew about it. Then last of all, the audience are never told that much information about the meet up Patty had with the mysterious man in a cow boy hat, it was a short scene that gives evidence to the audience that he has something to do with her murder. So when he is later revealed, the audience kind of gasp in the fact that a part of us, deep down could have guessed it was him.
But all along the audience knew Ben had nothing to do with it, although he acted mysteriously by talking about satan, it was because he was an outcast to society, due to not fitting in with everyone by being different. Furthermore, half way through film the audience are told that Ben didn’t molest Krissi Cates as she confesses with Libby nearly 20 years later, that she made it all up for the sake of getting attention; once again dropping hints at Ben being innocent, whilst not revealing who did it if it wasn’t him…
As well as, when his girlfriend Diondra was pregnant, he had brought clothes for their baby, but when his mum had found the clothes, thinking it was evidence to support him molesting children, she threw the clothes in the fire. Although, the audience know that Diondra is pregnant, we still couldn’t think at the time that the clothes were for her; resulting in the audience feeling sympathetic towards Ben, due to partially believing it’s not true, whilst setting him up for bad events to soon follow…
Therefore, the subtle hints throughout film about the truth of Ben not doing it, creates suspense as it makes the audience question who else could have done it. As a result, the audience are made to think differently when watching, so never being able to piece all the information together to draw a conclusion; creating a suspenseful atmosphere which is a key convention of the thriller genre.
So when Ben is released after being in prison for over 20 years, the audience feel emotional because the conversation he has with his sister Libby suggests that he took the blame to protect his daughter and his girlfriend Diondra. Which the news report afterwards informs the audience of how she was now being charged/arrested; this makes the film end on a happy and positive note.
Similar for when Libby returns to her old house and sees people moving on with their lives, something she can now finally do. I believe the ending is significant because of the meaning of life moves on being portrayed and a great way to end a long winded mystery thriller film.
Furthermore, the film covers many themes including:
- Teenage pregnancy
But “Dark Places” is difficult to categorise as a thriller film for the reason that, although it contains a gruesome element, it can be associated with the sub genre of mystery as well as, due to my understanding and notice of a majority of thriller films is based around a battle between the protagonist and the antagonist. So this means that the film is more of a sub genre of a mystery thriller because Libby is looking into the case of her family being murdered and her innocent brother being put behind bars. But also, I would categorise it as a character based drama about the Day family who was torn apart; in which the audience feel more emotionally connected to the story rather than feeling anxious and tense. Therefore, the film is hard to categorise as a thriller when so many conventions of it fit into different sub genres and hybrids.
Overall I would rate “Dark Places”…