On the back of the wild success of GONE GIRL and now the new TV miniseries SHARP OBJECTS, I was compelled to read Gillian Flynn's middle book - Dark Places - and was surprised to find that it had also received a big screen adaptation. I was even more surprised when I realised it had a stellar cast of big names, because it's release had utterly passed me by. Upon further investigation I realised that it had been horribly reviewed and went straight to video. Nonetheless, it's now available on a lot of pay per view streaming services so I decided to check it out.
The plot of the film is remarkably faithful to the book which has - admittedly - a highly cinematic structure. As with SHARP OBJECTS we open in the present day with a survivor of childhood trauma who will be our heroine. She's also falling apart - desperate for money, deeply emotionally scarred, self-medicating. As with SO, she's sent back into her past to investigate a crime, except this time rather than being a journalist she's paid by a weird crime club of enthusiasts who believe that the testimony she gave as a child to convict her brother of murdering her mother and sisters was co-erced and that a grave injustice has been done. And so the movie / book proceed by alternating scenes / chapters between the present day investigation and flashbacks to the day of the crime, culminating in a big reveal.
The plot is satisfyingly tricksy and gnarly and riffs off familiar topics from the WEST MEMPHIS THREE case - accusations of satan worship and child molestation. But as with all SO, I've come to believe that the point of Gillian Flynn's fiction is not so much whodunnit - it's perfectly possible to enjoy it having guessed that - but exploring the margins of American life - the people left behind by globalisation, suffering under bad debt and addiction, living from pay cheque to pay cheque and falling apart. It's this social observation of post financial crisis America that makes for compelling reading. That, and Flynn's eye for the grotesque - the stink and sounds and horror of life that other authors choose to avoid. She is a deeply visually impressive author.
And that's really the problem with this plot-faithful but atmosphere-blind adaptation. The director and production designers and costume designers just won't let it go grungy enough. Charlize Theron is also horribly miscast - this stunningly beautiful amazonian woman just doesn't look malnourished, maladjusted and on the poverty line. Her childhood just isn't dirty and shambolic enough. Christina Hendricks admittedly does better at looking beaten down as her mother, but she has to look truly broken - a woman who would resort to the desperate - and she doesn't. The only people who really look perfect are Chloe Grace Moretz as the vampy teen girlfriend of the convicted man, and Drea De Matteo as a washed up stripper. Otherwise this entire film just isn't gritty, grimy and grungy enough - and contrasts poorly with the production design and slippery memories of SHARP OBJECTS.
DARK PLACE has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated R. It went straight to video in 2015.