Welcome to a toxic stew of satanism, serial murder, teen angst and unrelieved gloom.
Welcome to “Dark Places,” where you can spend nearly two hours in the presence of some of the most unpleasant people you’ll ever have the misfortune to encounter at the movies.
At the center of this miasma of misery is a woman named Libby Day. She’s the sole survivor of an infamous Kansas massacre in which her mother and two young sisters were slaughtered in their farm home in the prairie hinterlands.
Libby is damaged goods. As played by Charlize Theron she’s dour, sour, sullen and surly. It’s a performance so downbeat that it defies the viewer to find any grounds to empathize with Libby.
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Surrounding her are characters who share a common trait, and that’s a general creepiness. There’s a peculiar young man played by Nicholas Hoult who’s obsessed with famous murders and pressures a peevish Libby to revisit her past and figure out what really happened on the fateful night. Odd and ominous too is Libby’s older brother played as a youth by Tye Sheridan and as an adult by Corey Stoll (the picture jumps back and forth from 1985, the year of the crime, to the present) accused and imprisoned for the killings thanks to Libby’s childhood testimony. There’s an abusive father, a manipulative girlfriend and a mystery man so villainous he wears a black hat.
Given the film’s setting and the subject matter, comparisons to “In Cold Blood” are inevitable … and wholly undeserved. This is a crude and cynical variation on Truman Capote’s master work, nothing more, courtesy of author Gillian “Gone Girl” Flynn, who wrote the novel on which the picture is based. (Gilles Paquet-Brenner wrote the screenplay and directed.)
The picture is dark, all right. And dreary and dismal and downright distasteful. Avoid.
1 star out of 5
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Corey Stoll and Christina Hendricks.
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner.
Running time: 1:53.
Rated: R, for some disturbing violence, language, drug use and sexual content.