Gillian Flynn exploded onto the mystery thriller scene last year when Gone Girl simultaneously became the must-read book and must-see film that everyone was talking about. But before writing Gone Girl, Flynn had published two darker, and quite honestly better novels. The first was Sharp Objects which is currently being developed into a TV series. The second was Dark Places. I will admit that, as a huge fan of the book (my personal favorite of Flynn’s), I had higher expectations than most. But despite this, the film adaptation of Flynn’s masterpiece falls short in almost every way possible.
Dark Places stars Charlize Theron as Libby Day, whose family – a mother and two sisters – was brutally murdered in 1985. Libby, who was only seven at the time, testified that her brother Ben committed the murders and he has been in jail since. Now in the present day, Libby is desperate for money and agrees to meet with a so-called “Kill Club,” or a group of people obsessed with true crimes, to dig deeper into her family’s murder. Along the way, Libby begins to doubt whether Ben was the actual killer and attempts to find the truth.
The film is told in shifting perspectives, one following the Days on the actual day of the murder and the other following present day Libby over the course of a few weeks. These dual narratives do not unfold in any sort of linear manner and for someone who has not read the book, I imagine it would be somewhat difficult to keep up. Rather than build suspense for each narrative by switching back and forth (which the book does perfectly), director Gilles Paquet-Brenner sloppily interweaves flashbacks with present images of Libby in a way that is distractingly unclear and non-cohesive.
As the film approached its climax, I found myself almost entirely uninterested and bored. Twists and turns were fired at the audience in rapid-succession, but most were so clumsily revealed that any suspense or shock was almost entirely lost in the shuffle. Lazy filmmaking is really the only way to describe such a butchering of the unbelievably intense source novel.
The one saving grace of the film is Charlize Theron, whose angry demeanor in the film is somewhat reminiscent of her outstanding turn in 2011’s Young Adult. Theron does what she can with the bland screenplay and embodies the sheltered and defensive victim role. Another standout was Tye Sheridan who played young Ben Day. Sheridan has continually impressed audiences since his breakout role in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.
Dark Places had such potential that I’m actually upset that I have to write this review. The story was interesting, but the most disturbing and shocking aspects that made the book great were either removed or felt too rushed to be taken in the way they should have been. I cannot recommend the book enough, but the movie is quite simply one to avoid. If you’re looking for a good Flynn-adaptation – stick with Gone Girl. It goes to much darker – and more interesting – places than Dark Places.