Fans of the film adaptation of Gone Girl may be surprised by the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s previous book, Dark Places. Gone Girl benefitted from Flynn adapting her own work, brutally cutting and reworking her material for film, and from acclaimed director David Fincher helming the project. Dark Places replaces both Flynn and Fincher with writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, and his work isn’t quite as effective as theirs. Still, taken on its own, Dark Places is an effectively dark and lurid story, with elements like serial killer culture and the panic over Satanists in the 80s.
Libby Day (Charlize Theron) is a woman whose life is inextricably connected to being the only survivor of the Kansas Prairie Massacre that killed her mother and older sisters when she was eight. Nearly three decades later, the stream of money from strangers around the country is about to run out, leading Libby to accept an offer to speak at Kill Club, a group of detective enthusiasts who have been investigating the case. The group believes that Libby’s brother Ben, who was convicted for the murders on the basis of rumors about unrelated parts of his life, is innocent. While Libby initially can’t fathom this, she agrees to revisit the events leading up to her family’s murder, in exchange for financial support. Libby’s exploration results in a series of twists and turns, leading to an surprising ending.
It’s all presented in a way that’s engaging, certainly. Still, Dark Places fails to address bigger topics than what’s on screen, in spite of occasional hints at these themes. The film is more focused on titillation, as it constantly tries to outdo each plot twist. The character motivations at play even start to fall apart when they’re thought about with any length of time. But in the moment, as a thriller, Dark Places is an effective guilty pleasure. Just don’t go in expecting something beyond that.