Super Dark Times (Movie Review)

Super Dark Times (Movie Review)
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PLOT: When a group of small town teens make the ill-advised decision to play around with a samurai sword, it sets off a chain of events that will destroy their lives.

REVIEW: If I knew nothing about SUPER DARK TIMES other than its title, it's a movie I would pass by without giving much consideration. SUPER DARK TIMES, that just sounds to me like something cutesy that would have annoying dialogue that tries too hard to sound hip and modern. By judging the film by its title, I'd be judging it all wrong, and by opting not to watch it I would have missed out on one of the best movies of the year.

This film isn't trying to be hip and modern; in fact, the story it's telling isn't even a modern one. It's set in 1995. In this era when internet access was still rare and you had to call your friends on landlines, the small town teens at the heart of the story are, when we're first introduced to them, living through what could more accurately be called "super dork times". While best friends Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) hang out with their buddies Daryl (Max Talisman) and Charlie (Sawyer Barth), they do stuff that most viewers can probably relate to, especially if they were, like me, also teens in the '90s. They put the scrambled porn channel on the TV, discuss girls they go to school with, debate the merits of Silver Surfer and The Punisher, talk about "that scene" in TRUE LIES, and get up to random shenanigans while aimlessly wandering around town.

One dull afternoon, the kids get their hands on a samurai sword, and of course they decide to play around with it. I know my friends and I definitely would have played with a samurai sword if we had one. I know this because we did have access to a machete, and we hacked some stuff up with that thing, without giving any thought to the possibility that one of us could get seriously injured by one simple accident with that sharp blade. An accident like the one that occurs in SUPER DARK TIMES.

As I watched the film play out, I had a feeling of dread for the entire first act. Although I was enjoying watching the kids have experiences that I could relate to, I also knew things were going to go terribly wrong. This is a thriller, after all. Something awful was coming, someone was going to get hurt, and I didn't want it to happen. I didn't want anything bad to happen to these kids, and I was worried about which one might get the worst of it. I was concerned for the group of four, as well as for Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino), the girl Zach and Josh both like.

Bad things happen. Things get dark. Behaving like teenagers do, the kids do have an accident with that samurai sword, and their world gradually falls apart from that moment on. The rest of the film is largely carried on the shoulders of Zach, as we watch him try to deal with what has happened, living in a state of fear, paranoia, and regret. He's upset over what has happened, he's afraid he and his friends are going to get in trouble, he's plagued by nightmares.

With the film being so focused on Zach, we get to see a good deal of his home life with his single mother Karen (Amy Hargreaves). Karen is a great, loving mom, and Hargreaves does a fantastic job in the role. It was interesting for me to see Hargreaves in a parent role; since I'm not up on Homeland or 13 Reasons Why, I'm primarily familiar with the actress from when she played the teenage love interest in the horror movie BRAINSCAN, which came out the year before this film is set in.

My feeling of dread dispersed during the middle stretch of the film, but it came back strong toward the end, as eventually things get even worse for these characters that I had imagined or anticipated. This movie was quite a rollercoaster viewing experience for me. I found it to be somewhat reminiscent of RIVER'S EDGE, although these characters are much more down-to-earth than the people in that movie were.

SUPER DARK TIMES marks the feature directorial debut of Kevin Phillips, and for a first film this is pretty incredible. It's going to be interesting to see where Phillips goes from here, because he knocked it out of the park his first time at bat. He was aided by cinematographer Eli Born, who captured some beautiful imagery. I love the look of this movie and of the small town it's set in. Over top of this imagery plays the score composed by Ben Frost, and while I wasn't so enamored with the sounds Frost puts over the most intense moments, overall I did like his music.

Phillips also assembled a great cast to bring the characters to life. There wasn't a bad moment with any of them. Each of the actors fully inhabited their roles and made their characters feel like real people who I quickly grew to care about. These characters and scenarios were quite well written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, who previously co-wrote the V/H/S spin-off SiREN, a much different sort of movie.

Captivating, emotionally involving, thrilling, disturbing, and real, this film is a stunning achievement for everyone involved. 

Extra Tidbit: The Orchard is releasing SUPER DARK TIMES in New York, Los Angeles, and other markets on September 29th. A digital and On Demand release follows on October 3rd.



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