Super Dark Times (2017) Fantasia Film Festival Review

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.

9/10

Can’t Come out to Play aka The Harvest (2013) DVD Review

ccotpCan’t Come out to Play aka The Harvest (2013)

Directed By: John McNaughton

Written By: Stephen Lancellotti

Starring: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Natasha Callis, Charlie Tahan

UK DVD Release – June 22nd from Signature Entertainment

From the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer comes this Horror/Thriller that follows the stories of two children in rural America – Maryann who has begrudgingly moved in with her Grandparents following her parents’ death; and Andy, a sickly frail boy whose life is strictly controlled and limited by his mother, who is also a doctor. Predictably through a chance encounter they become friends, but this friendship threatens to upheave the solitary environment that has been created for Andy, and raises the question of what his parents’ true intentions are.

While this film takes on some rather dark themes and has its unpleasant moments, to call it a horror seems a fair stretch of the genre for me. A laughably melodramatic opening scene and stodgy exposition through the opening act would have you think you’ve accidentally put on one of those obscure movie channels that play films about ‘finding the real meaning of family’ or something like that. In fact the strongest horror element for me was when I said to myself “Oh look it’s the girl from The Possession” when Maryann first appeared on screen.

ccotp2The surprising thing about it all however, is that once the film gets going, it’s actually alright. It never feels like it’s trying to be a horror, so I imagine the confusion comes from some marketing department who didn’t know how to sell a dark melodrama starring likeable children in a pretty grim situation, so decided to pretend it’s a horror movie, complete with a generic silvery-blue cover that depicts Andy as some wheelchair-bound zombie. The point is however that I don’t think it’s fair to blame the film or the filmmakers for it not being what it’s made out to be. The cast are all great, making the best of a fairly by-the-numbers script that nonetheless manages to throw in a couple of unforeseen curveballs (a bit like the unfortunate sod in the puzzling opening scene).

It’s at times contrived, and many characters’ actions don’t hold up to scrutiny but the film manages to make you feel enough sympathy for the lead children to care about what happens, Samantha Morton goes increasingly off the rails as the mother to terrifying effect, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel’s General Zod) remains spineless for this movie as the down beaten husband, and Peter Fonda plays the cool yet entirely two dimensional Grandfather, cropping up occasionally for some light relief to say “far out” a lot.

Some character development occurs throughout the movie, largely focused on the mother in fact, but it would have been nice to see some more. Especially between the children; there’s no ‘coming-of-age’ feeling to their friendship, it’s very naïve and bland, contrary to the dark tone of practically everything else in the movie. Though the subject matter would allow it, the film never goes anywhere near as dark as pitch black, settling on fairly mild-mannered unpleasantry; a murky grey. Never dwelling on anything too nasty, once again the cast are relied on to create any real sense of dread or sympathy for characters.

ccotp3 (1)Anyone reading this site is quite likely looking for a horror movie. If so, Can’t Come Out To Play is not what you’re looking for. I can see a lot of people buying this movie under false impressions being bitterly disappointed and rather confused. For what it is though, this is a reasonable effort at a dark melodrama with a great cast and interesting concept let down by a lack of character development and shoddy scriptwriting. I don’t see it finding its audience, whoever that is, and to be brutally honest it won’t be a great loss to the world.

5/10