Dark Places (2015)
Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Of Gillian Flynn’s three books, “Dark Places” is by far the worst. So already, the recent adaptation from French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner wasn’t going to be as good as David Fincher’s take on “Gone Girl.” It just wasn’t. That, and Flynn (who single-handedly wrote Fincher’s script) had very little to do with Paquet-Brenner’s project. The odds were stacked against it from the start.
When she was 6, Libby Day (Sterling Jerins then, Charlize Theron now) was the lone survivor of a massacre in her Kansas home that left her mother (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters (Natalie Precht and Madison McGuire) dead. Their brother Ben (Tye Sheridan then, Corey Stoll now) was sentenced to life in prison. But thirty years later, a group called the Kill Club, made up of fanatic amateur investigators, are convinced that Ben is innocent. So their leader, Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), tasks Libby with digging up dirt on some major players from that fateful day—including her dad (Sean Bridgers) and Ben’s girlfriend at the time, Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz then, Andrea Roth now)—to uncover the real truth. But what she doesn’t know might hurt her…or worse.
On paper, the cast of “Dark Places”—with an Oscar win for Charlize Theron, a Golden Globe nomination for Corey Stoll, 6 Emmy nods for Christina Hendricks, plus big-budget successes for Nicholas Hoult and Chloe Grace Moretz and bright potential for the young Tye Sheridan—was a homerun for casting director Carmen Cuba (“The Martian,” “Now You See Me”). The ensemble showed a lot of promise. But in practice, most of them do themselves a disservice. Theron’s nearly-constant angst feels completely disingenuous. She can push out the tears when she needs to, but her anger is noticeably insincere. She’s trying too hard. It’s apparent that Theron doesn’t relate to her character at all. She’s too obviously acting, not just being. It’s enough to take the audience out of the story. Plus, her character was supposed to be closer to five feet tall than six, with bright red hair. Physically, Theron is about as far from Libby as you can get. In fewer scenes, Hoult is even worse. He doesn’t show why he deserves to be cast in movies like the recent “Mad Max” and “X-Men” blockbusters. It doesn’t help that his part is so poorly written, but still…better actors can overcome that. Corey Stoll, in a minor role, might be the only one who performs up to expectations. He always seems to take terrible writing and make something of it. Despite his own physical lack of resemblance (Ben is supposed to have long red hair, not Stoll’s receding amount of brown hair), Stoll has his role down.
This chopping block is crowded enough with underwhelming acting, but I have to leave room for the script, written by the director. Flynn’s novel uses a unique narrative style that makes frequent use of flashbacks and heavy narration from Libby. Translating it to film was bound to have its difficulties. And they’re apparent. The 110-minute movie skipped essential scenes from the book. Instead, it crams valuable information unnaturally in the middle of dialogues (too many of which are Hoult’s lines). You can pick the instances out because they’re so uncomfortable to listen to. It could have been longer, to give the movie enough time to tell its complicated two-part story…but then, who would have wanted to watch any more of this? “Dark Places” was doomed to fail. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not disappointing when you see it happen.