REVIEW / MYSTERY-THRILLER
DARK PLACES (NC16)/3/5 stars
THE STORY: Libby's (Charlize Theron) mother (Christina Hendricks) and sisters were killed one horrific night when she was eight. As a result of her testimony, her brother Ben (Corey Stoll) is jailed for their murders. Twenty-five years later, Libby reluctantly meets a group of amateur investigators who call themselves The Kill Club. Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), one of its members, wants her to help prove that Ben is innocent. Based on Gillian Flynn's 2009 novel of the same name.
Would Dark Places have been made without the success of the previous Gillian Flynn adaptation Gone Girl (2014)? Probably. But it would not be attracting the same level of attention.
David Fincher's assured handling of a genre-crossing dark tale turned Gone Girl into a critical and commercial hit, along with lead actress Rosamund Pike winning accolades and several Best Actress awards.
Dark Places has managed to attract a top-drawer cast as well, including Oscar-winner Theron, Hendricks from television's Mad Men (2007 - 2015) and hot, young stars Hoult and Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays teenaged Ben's wild girlfriend.
Instead of Flynn adapting her novel for the big screen, like she did for Gone Girl, French film-maker Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah's Key, 2010) pulls double duty as screenwriter and director. This is why Dark Places stumbles a little.
The story throws up some intriguing questions: Did Libby lie or was she just a scared little girl? If Ben was innocent, why has he remained silent all these years? Who is he protecting? And perhaps the biggest mystery of them all: If not Ben, then who committed the murders?
But the dots are connected a little too easily and conveniently here, even though Paquet-Brenner tries to build tension by cutting back and forth between the past and present.
As the adult Libby, Theron gives a sense of her pain and vulnerability. She dresses like someone who wants to disappear into the crowd - with a cap pulled low, a nondescript jacket and ratty jeans. She wants to leave behind a dark past which insists on haunting her.
Moretz grabs your attention as an out-of-control daddy's girl, while Hoult has little to work with as a geekish-looking advocate for Ben's innocence.
There is some satisfaction in seeing how the truth comes to light. And learning that, sometimes, the darkest places are of our own imagining.