Double Feature

October 2015 - I recently had occasion to be back in my old stomping grounds of Harrisburg, so I made time to stop by the Midtown Cinema. It's one of those artsy places where you can see films that the multiplexes can't be bothered to screen. I was also delighted to discover that a microbrewery had opened next door!

But, I digress. On the day I was there, the Midtown was showing Dark Places, based on a novel by Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame. The disturbing Dark Places was published in 2009, before Gone Girl and three years after her 2006 debut, the equally disturbing Sharp Objects.

The main character in Dark Places is a 30-ish woman named Libby Day. She's shorter than average. She's also missing a few fingers and toes, casualties of being outside in the cold for hours the night her mother and sisters were murdered. The horrific crime happened early in the morning of January 3, 1985, and has become infamously known as the Satan Farmhouse Massacre in Kinnakee, Kansas. Libby survived and her brother, Ben, who was 15 at the time, is doing life for the murders. Libby provided the testimony that sent him to prison.

Libby has spent the years following the murders moving from relative to relative and living off a fund set up after the murders to accept donations from sympathetic people. Now, Libby has alienated even her devoted aunt and the fund is almost empty. So, when Libby is approached by a group that offers to pay her for inside access to the key players in the case, Libby agrees. The quest causes Libby to rethink her confidence in Ben's guilt and brings her into contact with some very dangerous people who want to add one more name to the list of Day Family Murders.

Dark Places, which I read in 2013, is filled with seriously flawed characters that, in other books, might be considered villains. In Libby's case, her personality and character flaws are manifested in a physical way.

In terms of structure, Dark Places is three-dimensional, like a Rubik's Cube. The narrative is told from the perspective of several characters – Libby in the present, her mother and brother in the past. Chapters of past and present alternate, so the reader's perception is constantly shifting as blanks are constantly filled in until the true picture is finally revealed. Very enjoyable.

The constant time-shifting made me curious to see how it would be handled in the movie. Charlize Theron stars in and scores a producer credit in the R-rated big screen adaptation. Flynn, who wrote the screenplay for the movie based on her third book, Gone Girl, seems to have had no involvement here. The script for Dark Places was written by the film's director, Gilles Paquet-Brenner. The supporting cast has plenty of familiar faces, including Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Tye Sheridan (Mud) and Chloë Moretz.

Overall review: Liked it. All things considered, I think this movie was more faithful to the novel than the Gone Girl movie was to that book. Theron is obviously not how I pictured the Libby of the book. But, she manages to manifest Libby's emotional and psychological issues in other ways. I felt this film did a better job than Gone Girl of capturing the Midwestern decay that permeates Flynn's novels and which adds to the sinister atmosphere. The movie also effectively handled the book's constant shifts in time and perspective. It's worth your time if you can find it.