31 May 2015 | Coventry
Watch the film or read the book, but I don't recommend both
This is the first time – ever – that I'm able to write in a review that I read the book before I watched the film! I'm an avid movie fanatic and not much of a book reader, but for some reason I read both Gillian Flynn novels (this one as well as "Gone Girl") before they were turned into Hollywood movies with an all-star cast. "Dark Places" is clearly not as successful as "Gone Girl", because the release got pushed back a couple of times and this one isn't likely to ever end up in the IMDb top 250. Now, I always disliked that typical and clichéd statement: "the book is much better than the film", but I must admit that there's truth in it
Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner's screenplay adaptation is very loyal to Flynn's novel, and thus the basic subject matter is tense and unsettling, but for some inexplicable reason the book is compelling whereas the film is rather tedious
"Dark Places" tells the story of Libby Day. At the tender age of 7, Libby witnessed how her mother and two sisters were brutally slain in their Kansas farm at night, and she confirmed to the authorities that her 15-year-old brother Ben was the culprit. 28 years later, Libby understandably grew up to become an angry, secluded and insecure woman. Driven by financial issues, Libby accepts the peculiar Lyle's offer to attend a meeting of the Kill Club. This bizarre collective exists of people who're investigating infamous (and unsolved) murder cases, and they are convinced that Ben Day is innocent. Reluctant at first, Libby begins to unravel the mystery of what exactly happened on the awful night that ruined her life. The search confronts her with her imprisoned brother and her estranged father, but also brings new secrets to the surface about her mother Patty and her brother's long lost high- school girlfriend Diondra.
It's very strange and difficult to describe, but every new plot twist or revelation that was captivating in the book comes across as implausible in the film. Especially the character of the mother, Patty Day, was much more powerful in the novel. Her hopelessness and desperation isn't properly transferred to the screen and therefore a couple of essential twists near the end become downright unbelievable. Obviously this isn't the fault of the screenplay, because a book lends itself much better to describe emotions and mental states of mind in great detail. This is also the main reason why the protagonist character Libby never truly becomes the intriguing character she deserves to be. "Dark Places" definitely also suffers from a shortage of action, especially during the first hour, and the great potential of the "Kill Club" isn't elaborated properly enough (although that also wasn't the case in the book). Paquet-Brenner does, however, marvelously captivate the grim and depressing atmosphere of the Midwestern American slums and insolvent family farms. The performances are more than adequate as well, with particularly strong roles for Charlize Theron and Nicolas Hoult. Just a week ago, I also saw them act together in "Mad Max: Fury Road" but this is quite a different type of film. Christina Hendricks is amazing as the poor and pitiable single mother and I was also very surprised to see a strong role for Chloë Grace Moretz. "Dark Places" is a great book to read (personally I even preferred it over "Gone Girl) and the film is also definitely worth checking out, but I only recommend either reading the book or watching the film. Otherwise you're guaranteed to stumble upon the flaws more easily.