Book v Film: Dark Places

“I felt hollowed out. My mom’s death was not useful. I felt a shot of rage at her, and then imagined those last bloody moments in the house, when she realised it had gone wrong, when Debby lay dying, and it was all over, her unsterling life. My anger gave way to a strange tenderness, what a mother might feel for her child, and I thought, at least she tried. She tried, on that final day, as hard as anyone could have tried. And I would try to find peace in that.”

The second adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel to make it onto the big screen, the first being the hugely successful Gone Girl which was directed by David Fincher and released last year, Dark Places is a crime mystery based on Flynn’s second novel of the same name, which was originally published in 2009. Dark Places follows Libby Day (Charlize Theron) who, at the age of eight, witnessed the brutal murder of her family in their rural Kansas farmhouse, for which her brother was convicted for at the time. 30 years later, running out of money and with doubts beginning to creep up, Libby agrees to revisit the crime in an attempt to uncover the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night.


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

Written and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the adaptation of Dark Places was only released in the UK earlier this year, after being released worldwide last summer, although showings were very limited. Without a wide release, Dark Places has sadly not had the attention that a Gillian Flynn adaptation deserves. That being said, we’re not exactly missing out on anything with this one.

Gone Girl was one of my favourite films in 2014, so on hearing that another one of Flynn’s novels was going to be adapted and that the stunning Charlize Theron would lead it, Dark Places quickly made it onto my holiday reading list.

Like Gone Girl, Dark Places is a brilliantly intense mystery and a fast-paced thriller. I read the novel in one sitting, proving yet again that Flynn knows how to completely immerse you into the story and its characters. But the adaptation of Dark Places isn’t nearly of the same quality as the impressive first Flynn adaptation that it was unquestionably going to be compared to, but it’s no wonder when you read up on the story behind its release.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner picked up the rights to the adaptation before many of us knew who Gillian Flynn even was, and well before the hugely impressive Gone Girl was even in the works. But, by the time Dark Places was ready for release, we had all gone Gone Girl crazy, and Paquet-Brenner wasn’t prepared for the hype, only intended his film to be small, indie film.

Because of the unfair comparisons that this mix-up in release order allowed for, the timing of Gone Girl created many unrealistic expectations. Dark Places wasn’t made with any other Flynn adaptation to live up to, nor did Paquet-Brenner realise that his work would be compared to that of the legendary David Fincher. But whilst this unfortunate confusion has had a huge impact on Dark Places, it’s not all down to undeserved comparisons and expectations. But whilst this unfortunate confusion has had a huge impact on Dark Places, it’s not all down to these undeserved comparisons and expectations.

You can buy the book here

The biggest flaw in this adaptation, I feel, comes from one major casting mistake. Whilst any news that Charlize Theron will be leading a film is incredible, unfortunately, she’s horribly miscast in this. Libby Day is 31 years old, 4 foot 10 inches tall, she has D cup boobs, red hair, and is missing a few toes and part of a finger. Now, Theron isn’t the first person that comes to mind, is she?

There was no doubt that Theron would give a great performance, but Libby is a broken character; she’s given up on life, and she scrapes by on the little money that she has left. Putting a baseball cap on Theron just isn’t good enough. You could chop off her fingers and toes and make her live on the street for a week, but she’s far too stunning, whatever the case. Libby needed to look rough; we needed to see that this new case was her last hope, and we needed to feel sorry for her. Alas, Theron just didn’t look the part.

But, even if they may not have visually fitted the novel’s descriptions of them, the performances are all excellent, and the rest of the cast is pretty spot-on. Christina Hendricks plays Libby’s mother, Patty, brilliantly, Nicholas Hoult is a fantastic Lyle, Corey Stoll makes a great Ben Day, as does Tye Sheridan as a young Ben Day, and Chloë Grace Moretz is exactly the right person to play a young Diondra.

However, the suspense and gripping nature of the novel just isn’t there. The adaptation does stick closely to the novel in terms of plot and twists, but it doesn’t have the same twisted, dark edge to it. And, as much as it pains me to say, it’s not as sexy. That’s probably the last word you would expect to describe a story like this, but there were many scenes that whilst reading the book where you felt quite seduced by Flynn’s writing, as completely inappropriate as that felt. But the film completely ignores the novels descriptive scenes involving masturbation, sex, nudity, and explicit love letters, further missing out on the tone of the novel.

You can’t connect to the characters as well as you do in the novel, either. Reading the book, I felt so uncomfortable in how much I liked the young Ben Day, whilst you’re just not given the chance to in the film. He’s not as sympathetic or as threatening, and it was this imbalance in his character that engaged you.

Differences From The Book:

As said above, Libby Day is described completely differently in the book as to what she appears like in the film. In the book, Libby is small but with big boobs, red hair, and is missing a few toes and part of a finger. She may be missing a toe, but her fingers are certainly all there in the film. She starts off with dyed blonde hair in the book, too, but she does dye it back to red which doesn’t happen in the film, either. Whilst I loved Christina Hendricks as the mother in the film, I can’t help but think that I would have been so much more invested in the film if she played Libby. Anybody else?

Aside from this more noticeable difference, here’s a full list of the changes from the film to the book:

  • The film starts with a flashback to the day of the murder to tell the audience what has happened early on. The book begins with Libby lying in bed and feeling depressed.
  • In the film, Libby’s financial advisor gives her the letter from Lyle. In the book, she receives it through the post.
  • In the film, Libby meets Lyle in a laundromat. In the book, she meets him at a local Grille. She then later meets him in a bar in the book, but she meets him in the street in the film. It seems that the film wanted to give much plainer settings, maybe to not show any alcohol or smoking.
  • The film hints to Ben sending the love letters to young girls much earlier on. This doesn’t happen for a few more chapters in the book. The book then goes further into his relationship with Krissi, showing Ben getting a little too excited by their kiss and having to go into their bathroom, and then later when a teacher catches him getting aroused by her cubbyhole. The film does not show this.
  • The film doesn’t comment on Libby’s klepto tendencies, as she has to steal something wherever she goes. This links to something that happens later in the book which the film also misses out.
  • In the book, Patty’s loan officer is called Len. In the film, he is called Joseph.
  • In the book, Libby calls Barb, a reporter who wrote a book on the murders, who believes that Ben is innocent, that Libby was coached by the police, and that she thinks that Libby should recant her testimony. This phone call doesn’t happen in the film.
  • In the film, Ben goes to the compound alone and says that he’s a friend of Tre’s. In the book, he goes to the compound with Diondra and tells her friends that he has a cut on his face from being in a fight with Tre so that he sounds cool (which he actually did by falling off of his bike).
  • In the film, older Ben tries to connect with Libby by talking about a farm horse. In the book, it’s about a porcelain bunny.
  • When Libby leaves the jail in the book, she is thinking about finding some DNA to prove that Ben is innocent. In the film, she still believes that he did it and that he is “full of shit”.
  • In the book, Ben also tells Libby where to find Runner. In the film, she tracks him down on her own a little later.
  • In the book, Ben is more freaked out about the pregnancy when we first meet Diondra. In the film, he seems excited by it and is even thinking about names.
  • In the book, Diondra buys Ben loads of new clothes – mostly black and leather. It’s hinted at in the film that Ben has dyed his hair and is changing his appearance for her, but she’s much pushier in the book.
  • In the book, Libby calls Diane and leaves her a voice message. In the film, Diane has died and we aren’t aware of her relationship with Libby since the murders.
  • In the book, Libby goes to Magda’s Free Day Society club and sells her some of his things. Here, we meet Runner’s old girlfriend, Peggy, who provided him with an alibi. She now says that she was lying. We don’t hear about any of this in the film and there is no mention of Peggy.
  • In the book, we meet a stripper called Colleen who shows us where to find Krissi, who’s stumbling out of a lorry after being with a ‘client’. In the film, Lyle finds Krissi in the strip club and there is no mention of her ‘extra’ work.
  • In the book, Krissi gets much more nervous when Lyle mentions her dad (who Lyle believes to be the murderer), but she doesn’t show any reaction in the film.
  • In the book, Patty tries to find Ben at the Muehler’s house. They say that they haven’t hung out with him in over a year and tell Patty to ring 1-800-Devils-R-Us. This doesn’t happen in the film.
  • In the book, Runner calls Patty a bitch. In the film, he uses the C-bomb (which is odd because the film has played down a lot of the other sex/alcohol etc.).
  • In the book, Libby receives a letter from Runner saying that he has cancer, that he needs some money, and that he doesn’t think that Ben did it. In the film, there is no letter and no mention of his cancer.
  • In the book, Libby remembers Ben being home because of his light being on when the murders happened. He tells her that it’s because he ran out in a hurry after an argument with his mum. This isn’t discussed in the film.
  • In the book, Runner says that he liked the idea of being a granddaddy and that’s how Libby finds out that Diondra was pregnant. In the film, he questions whether Ben killed her because they liked to kill pregnant women, which is less of an emotional response.
  • In the book, Krissi knocks on Libby’s door and goes inside the house and Libby makes her a drink. In the film, Libby meets her outside of her house and they talk in the car.
  • In the book, Libby dyes her hair back to red. This doesn’t happen in the film.
  • In the book, Libby finds out that Diondra is a missing person by searching for her on a library computer. In the film, Lyle calls Libby to tell her that he has found this out.
  • In the book, a young Ben, Diondra, and Tye have to burn their clothes after killing the cows. Ben then has to wear Diondra’s sweatpants and Tye makes fun of him. Ben then suggests that they rob his mum’s house to impress Diondra. In the film, we just see that they have showered. Diondra then receives the voicemails about Ben and Krissi, so she suggests that they rob his mum so that they can run away together.
  • In the book, Libby phones ‘Polly’ and asks for Diondra. In the film, Libby goes straight to her house.
  • In the book, Ben’s mum finds a notebook full of girls names. She thinks this is to do with Krissi, but it is actually the names he has been thinking of for his baby. We see a glimpse of this notebook in the film but it’s not as obvious.
  • In the book, Libby is already in her mum’s bed before Ben and Diondra arrive. In the film, they hear Libby walking into her mum’s room.
  • In the book, Libby stays at Diondra’s house for tea and wine. She then goes into the bathroom and steals a lipstick. She also realises that Crystal has read Michelle’s diary which is why she is sceptical about them. In the film, she doesn’t stay for long and finds her mum’s bracelet in the bathroom, instead.
  • In the film, Libby gets a call from Lyle explaining about the serial killer who has admitted to killing her mum. In the book, Libby doesn’t find this out until after she escapes.
  • In the book, Calvin kills Debby with an axe and then shoots Patty in the head with the shotgun after stabbing her. In the film, there is no axe and he kills them both with the gun.
  • In the book, Libby wakes up to Diondra strangling her and manages to push her off. In the film, Diondra and Crystal are on the other side of the room.
  • In the book, Diondra smothers blood all over the house to make it look like a massacre. In the film, there’s a small glimpse of a message written on the wall in blood, but we don’t see much detail of the crime scene.
  • In the film, Lyle finds Libby hiding in the woods. In the book, Libby escapes and rings him on a payphone.
  • In the film, Libby goes to see Ben in prison straight away. In the book, she waits for a few weeks.
  • In the book, the police try to find Diondra but she has burnt the house down. Libby then remembers that she stole the lipstick from her bathroom so they use it to get her DNA. They find Dioindra but not Crystal. In the film, a news report shows that Diondra has been arrested by we aren’t told any more than that.
  • The book then has a chapter in Calvin’s perspective, who says that Debby was the only person he killed who didn’t want to die so that he felt like a murderer afterwards. We aren’t told any of this in the film.
  • In the book, Libby goes to meet Diane, who tells Libby that she knew she could have tried harder to help her Ben. Again, Diane is already dead in the film.

Overall Verdict:

It’s so frustrating to see this amazing cast in place, and for a film with such a great potential to just not come together. On paper, it should have been a good adaptation, as the film does stick closely to the book, but it just doesn’t have the same feel to it. If I were you, I’d make sure you gave this book a read first.

Dark Places will be released on DVD on 22nd February.

One thought on “Book v Film: Dark Places

Add yours

  1. Colleen is not the one who told Libby the truth about Krissi and her lie; Colleen was barely in it. Krissi comes to visit Libby a couple chapters later at her address and tells her the truth.

    And the reason Ben was so close to the younger kids is because he volunteered for their class because he knew their teacher, not because of the janitorial job.


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