By Gary Murray
Starring Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Chole Grace Moretz
Written and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Running time 113 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Bringing the perfect thriller to the screen is a challenging affair. It has to have all the twists and turns to keep the audience on their seats until the very end and cannot break tension, just pick at the wire. It is a delicate balance that only a few directors could do consistently. Hitchcock comes to mind as the king of this kind of director. Even his name could send chills down the spine of cinema patrons. Most directors are happy to pull it off once. Gilles Paquet-Brenner makes the attempt with Dark Places.
There is this serpentine aspect to telling the tale of Dark Places. The main story is of an older Libby Day (Charlize Theron) the soul survivor of a prairie massacre of many years ago. Her mother and sisters were brutally murdered in what the authorities believed was a Satanic incident. The donated funds to sustain the woman have just about dried up and she is becoming desperate.
She meets a young man Lyle (a brilliant Nicholas Hoult) who is interested in the Prairie Massacre and believes that the convicted killer is innocent. Libby was a very young witness to the crime and implicated Ben, her brother. They have not spoken in 28 years.
Dark Places opens up to show two different worlds. There is the world of today where Libby hunts down her father to a toxic waste site and confronts the man. Dad knows more than he is letting on but he is not telling.
The film bounces back and forth between present day and the past to a time before the murders. We see the family struggling to keep the farm and young Ben getting drawn into the world of drugs and Satan worship. Then, there is teen and pregnant Diondra (Chole Grace Moretz). There is something just not right about that girl and everyone but Ben sees it. The two ends rush to the middle and the resolution of what exactly happened all those years ago. It is also about how memory can play tricks on the psyche.
Charlize Theron is very careful in picking her projects. The Oscar winner goes from lauded roles to popcorn chewing action flicks with a smooth grace. Although she is considered one of the most beautiful women on the planet, she takes on roles that are not that glamorous. This is another non-glamorous role. There are many elements of Libby not to like but Theron makes us root for her in spite of herself.
Chole Grace Moretz can truly do no wrong as an actress. No matter how large or small the part, she consistently delivers a strong and strange performance. Even in bad movies, Chole turns in a great performance. She is becoming the actress of her generation, a star among stars. She makes performances that are anticipated and not easily forgotten. There is Oscar in her future.
In Mad Men, Christina Hendricks plays the redheaded bombshell but in this film she is the frumpy housewife. It is an unrecognizable transformation of an actress from one role to another. She should have a strong career post-Mad Men.
The film is directed and adapted for the big screen by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the director of one of my favorite works of 2010 Sarah’s Key, based on a book that I could not put down. Here, he uses some of the same techniques he perfected in that flick in this one.
Dark Places is an exciting thriller that will keep audiences guessing until the very end. It twists and turns then turns back on itself in such a madcap fashion. It is a very dark film that touches on some serious and deep emotions. It is not for everyone but should be enjoyed by the blood and guts crowd.