When a book becomes a movie there is always one main question: how will it compare? For Dark Places, there is a second, more challenging question: how does it compare to Gone Girl? Fans of Gillian Flynn have most likely read all three of the author’s spectacular books: Dark Places, Gone Girl and Sharp Objects. As an author, Flynn weaves tales of women facing a grim (often self-imposed) challenge. There are consistent themes throughout all three of her novels, creating quite the challenge for turning these books into movies, especially with Gone Girl’s critical success.
Dark Places is intentionally disorienting as the pieces of Libby Day’s past and present are brought to screen. Between grainy flashbacks, we meet current day Libby as she grapples with a dismal financial future. We learn that she has been living off donations from strangers who want to show their support after the gruesome murder of her mother and two sisters. Libby and her brother Ben survived that night — although Ben has spent many years locked away after being charged with the murders. Faced with a shrinking bank account (and no job to speak of) Libby turns to the Kill Club, a gathering of murder super fans, who are willing to shell out $500 bucks for her to make an appearance at their latest gathering. Much to Libby’s dismay, the Kill Club is not just a group of fans, they are vigilantes — hoping to prove that her brother Ben was wrongly accused of the murders. Libby’s financial motivation, coupled with the persistence of the Kill Club, get the story going and takes the audience back and forth in order to figure out who really killed the Day family.
There is no doubt about it, the cast for Dark Places is stacked. Libby’s mother is played by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, the treasurer of the Kill Club is played by X-Men’s Nicholas Hoult and Drea de Matteo even makes an appearance as old classmate turned stripper. By and far, the most notable performance is delivered by Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays a teenage love interest of Ben’s. Moretz is a fiery scene stealer and this reviewer wishes the whole film was based around her character, Diondra. Charlize Theron plays present day Libby Day and delivers a “dark” performance, but at times she simply tries too hard. Moretz pulls off enigmatic Diondra naturally, in a rather frightening way.
Although Dark Places sprang from the same mind of Gone Girl, the two films simply do not compare. While Gone Girl takes on Flynn’s twisted tale with a cool and crisp approach, Dark Places feels clunky and all too aware of its purpose. Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s jerky camera movements and approach to the film’s major themes feel forced, put in as part of a checklist rather than as an artistic statement. Separating it from its Gone Girl counterpart, Dark Places does function as a somewhat thrilling, more decadent episode of Law and Order: SVU, which is always worth a watch.