SUPER DARK TIMES (2017)
Starring Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Cappuccino, Amy Hargreaves, Max Talisman and Sawyer Barth
Directed by Kevin Phillips
Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski
Reviewed as part of the Fantasia Fest Line-Up
“A harrowing but meticulously observed look at teenage lives in the era prior to the Columbine High School massacre.”
Hey there friends! Listen up! If you and your chums accidentally kill somebody, don’t try to cover it up. If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that doing so never, ever ends well…
It’s the 90’s. Before the millennium. Before smartphones. Before high definition television and before social networks ruled everyone’s lives. Teens Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are best friends. They finish each other’s sentences, know what the other’s thinking and always have each other’s backs. But their lives are irreparably torn apart when a silly argument with another friend escalates accidentally and fatally. But covering up their crime will affect them both in very different ways, and times are about to get super dark…
From its foreboding opening shots of a trail of blood and destruction in a deserted high school, the confident filmmaking here is striking. Super Dark Times is an absolutely fantastic film. I’ll say that straight up. This is masterful cinema.
Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski are coming off the moderate success of Siren, a fun but fleeting creature feature. Yet their script here is something else. Super Dark Times is driven not by plot and exposition but by its characters and their decisions, their psychology. It’s full of authentic details, from the banter between the boys, the relationships with elders, even the design of the town, all of it feels too specific to be anything but personal. This is a great script. But a great film needs to be more than that…
Leading to Kevin Phillips direction. Fucking hell. Imagine if you will, if David Fincher was stripped of his budget and made something smaller outside of the studio system, but no less beautiful and daring. With his feature length debut, that’s what Phillips achieves here. Everything is wonderfully under-lit, often to the point of silhouette, creating a foreboding, super dark atmosphere that, combined taut editing and a searing ambient soundtrack, create a visceral and psychologically immersing experience.
It also helps that the filmmakers got the cast they did. The actors here are truly spellbinding right across the board, I didn’t see a false note in one of the young cast. Charlie Tahan is no stranger to genre fare, his talents developing with turns in The Harvest and Wayward Pines, and he’s coolly chilling here. Owen Campbell is manic as his paranoia grows, coming off like a young Ryan Gosling or Jake Gyllenhaal at his most bug eyed. The whole cast is completely natural, so human.
If I had to nitpick, it would be one particularly expository sequence which leads into the finale that is slightly at odds with the natural flow of the rest of the film.
Although we have seen this story before, we rarely see it done with such skill and conviction. What could’ve been 90’s nostalgia exploitation instead chooses a different route and is all the more haunting and memorable for it. Visually stunning, audibly unnerving and emotionally devastating, Super Dark Times is a brilliant, brutal piece of work. Expect it on a few Best Of lists come December.