Film Review: Dark Places

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 only. You can read my review of the book on its own here or my comparison of the film to the book 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 DVD 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 ChloΓ« 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.

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.

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