You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Super Dark Times’

Before shifting abruptly into genre territory, this sensitive coming-of-age story astutely captures the moment when a teen’s carefree perspective turns into a traumatic loss of innocence.

Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Cappuccino, Amy Hargreaves, Max Talisman, Sawyer Barth, Adea Lennox, Ethan Botwick.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5112578/reference

The fecund coming-of-age story receives a genre-twisting injection of violence in debuting director Kevin Phillips’ alternately sensitive and gory “Super Dark Times.” Jarring in the way it jumps whole hog from a sincere, penetrating look at the nightmare of guilt into far more standard psycho territory, this teen drama about the repercussions of a tragic accident is so spot-on in its depiction of high school behavior that its shift to slasher mode creates disappointment. Still, it’s hard not to appreciate the astute ways the script captures the moment when carefree childhood turns into the loss of innocence. Visually striking, with a fine ear for teen dialogue among boys, and excellent performances (especially from Owen Campbell, fresh from Sundance kudos on “As You Are”), the film could make a moderate box office splash, with steadier returns from VOD.

The long shadow of “Stand by Me” will always haunt films about the confluence of childhood and death, though “Super Dark Times” largely ditches nostalgia for a decidedly darker turn, and not just because the 1990s suburban community where it takes place is awash in wood paneling and brown furniture. The film’s interest lies in the corrosive effects of guilt more than the shock of mortality, and where it works best is in the way it reveals the fragility of teenage security — gone in the blink of an eye.

Phillips instills a sense of unease from the very beginning, in a strikingly edited sequence that shows the aftermath of a stag that crashed through a school window, dying slowly on a classroom floor. As a policeman looks confusedly at the incongruous animal, the cop’s image reflected in the pool of blood, his partner stomps on the beast to end its suffering. The scene is disturbing without being sensationalized, inhabiting an ambiguous space between reality and nightmare, and in retrospect forms an appropriate introduction to the violence to come: As so often in movies, suburbia and high school offer only a façade of safety.

Best friends Zach (Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan, “The Harvest”) engage in classic teen boy conversation, full of silly comparisons (Silver Surfer vs. the Punisher), gross-out food dares, and ludicrous projections into hypothetical futures. Though they find obnoxious, foul-mouthed Daryl (Max Talisman) an annoying blowhard, they hang with him sometimes; when Josh pulls out his brother’s ninja sword, the three decide to take it to the woods and have fun slicing milk cartons with Charlie (Sawyer Barth), the younger brother of a classmate.

Remember the scene in “Boyhood” when Mason and his older acquaintances fool around with a ninja disc? It generates tension because you’re afraid something terrible will happen, but nothing does: Richard Linklater feels too much tenderness for his characters to put them through such tragedy. Although Phillips clearly loves some of his characters as well, they’re clearly not as safe — as evidenced when Josh accidentally kills Daryl with the sword. In a panic, the boys cover the body with leaves and ditch the sword, agreeing to keep quiet.

But maintaining a cool exterior isn’t easy for either Zach or Josh. The latter shuts down completely, locking himself in his room at home, while Zach struggles to keep a normal front even as the horror of what happened eats away at his very being. His warm, supportive single-mom Karen (Amy Hargreaves, “How He Fell in Love”) doesn’t really notice the change, but Zach’s entire world is crumbling.

One of the film’s best scenes sees Zach in his bedroom with Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino), for whom he secretly holds a crush, when she makes clear her interest in him. But he’s desperately trying to cope with the nightmare he’s just witnessed, and quietly cries on her shoulder. Everything Zach could want is now within his grasp, yet his distress is so great that he can’t savor the moment, pushing him even further into emotional turmoil. Campbell’s superb performance is pitched beautifully as Zach struggles with inner maelstroms not least of which is the realization that the warmth and protection of home no longer offer safety from his sense of culpability and the fear of discovery.

Had the film kept on this track, exploring the ramifications of guilt and the loss of purity, it could have been an exemplary coming-of-age story notable for a nuanced understanding of teen trauma. Instead, co-scripters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski unexpectedly switch gears and opt for horror, slicing their way into genre territory. Fortunately, the characterizations are strong enough by this point to just about withstand the onslaught, though disappointment is inevitable.

Campbell’s standout work goes a significant way toward keeping sympathy for Zach high, as does Cappuccino’s fresh and nuanced presence as the girl (practically) next door. Camerawork uses classic framing that largely maintains a sense of restraint even when emotions are off-kilter, and Ed Yonaitis’ editing is well-calibrated in all scenes, emphasizing how every stimulus in Zach’s world now triggers his pain. The ’90s are largely evoked by production design (dig the clunky portable phones!) and a few songs from the era.

Film Review: 'Super Dark Times'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Bright Future, competing), Jan. 29, 2017. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: A Ways & Means, Neighborhood Watch, Higher Content, Lila 9th Productions, Om Films production. (International sales: Match Factory, Cologne.) Producers: Richard Peete, Jett Steiger, Ed Parks. Executive producers: Cameron Lamb, William Hall, Dan Burks, Niraj Bhatia, Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski. Co-producers: Rachel Ward, Traci Carlson.

Crew: Director: Kevin Phillips. Screenplay: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski. Camera (color): Eli Born. Editor: Ed Yonaitis.

With: Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Cappuccino, Amy Hargreaves, Max Talisman, Sawyer Barth, Adea Lennox, Ethan Botwick.

More Film

  • Michael B. Jordan Jordan Vogt-Roberts

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan, Jordan Vogt-Roberts Team for Monster Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan is producing a creature feature, billiards champ Cisero Murphy is getting a movie, the sixth Terminator movie gets a title, and Graham King receives an honor. PROJECT UNVEILED More Reviews Video Game Review: 'The Division 2' Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride' New Regency and [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Nicolas Cage to Star in Martial Arts Actioner 'Jiu Jitsu'

    Nicolas Cage will star in the martial arts actioner “Jiu Jitsu,” based on the comic book of the same name. The cast will also include Alain Moussi, who stars in the “Kickboxer” franchise. Dimitri Logothetis is producing with Martin Barab and directing from a script he wrote with Jim McGrath. Highland Film Group is handling [...]

  • Chinese success of Thai film "Bad

    Chinese, Thai Shingles Pact for Co-Production Fund at FilMart

    A deal to establish a 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) co-production fund between China and Thailand was struck at FilMart on Tuesday to help launch TV and film projects that will appeal to Chinese and Southeast Asian audience. The deal that was struck by China’s Poly Film Investment Co., TW Capital from Thailand and Thai [...]

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara's Ouster Kicks Off a Week of Major Disruption in the Media Business

    The sudden ouster of Warner Bros. Entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara kicked off what is likely to go down as one of the most extraordinary weeks in Hollywood history, spelling enormous turmoil and transition across the media landscape. In addition to the news about Tsujihara, which comes amid a wider shake-up of leadership at AT&T’s WarnerMedia, [...]

  • Buddha in Africa

    More Than Half of Films at Hot Docs Film Festival Are Directed by Women

    More than half of the films playing at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, are directed by women, the Canadian event said Tuesday. The festival’s 26th edition, which runs April 25-May 5, will screen 234 films, with 54% of the directors being women. In the competitive International Spectrum program, notable films receiving their world [...]

  • Korean Distributors Fight for Box Office

    Korean Distributors Fight for Box Office Market Share

    Korean distributors are having to fight ever harder for their share of Korea’s theatrical market share. Threats on the horizon include a slide in the performance of local movies, consolidation, the arrival of new players and the challenge from streaming services. South Korea’s theatrical box office is now bigger than that of France or Germany despite [...]

  • Korean Distributors Learn to Downsize in

    Korean Distributors Learn to Downsize in Saturated Market

    In 2018, the Korean film business stumbled, as local films made with blockbuster budgets and targeting the usual high seasons of Chuseok and Christmas last year failed to deliver blockbuster earnings.  So Korean distributors have embraced some tactics to enhance their bottom lines.  Genre films “Monstrum,” “Fengshui,” “The Negotiation,” “Take Point,” “Swing Kids” and “Drug King” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content