Having been written by the same author who wrote Gone Girl and this coming after the critically acclaimed film, Dark Places stays surprisingly true to the book. Its a grim, dark tale that certainly won’t be for everyone, especially considering how uncomfortably realistic it gets at times and as a mystery it keeps the suspense high until the end of the film. Unfortunately for Dark Places, the real joy in the book came with the masterful writing and its quick pace but here it just doesn’t translate to film. Its not helped by lacklustre performances and an inability to nail the pacing but when it gets going, the mystery is gripping enough to keep you watching until the end.
The story follows troubled woman Libby Day (Charlize Theron) who witnesseds her Mum and two sisters killed when she was 7. Under pressure by the police, she ultimately pointed the finger at her brother whom she believes caused the act. Fast forward to her as an adult struggling to survive on the last scraps of money her story generated in the media at the time. As she begrudgingly accepts an invitation to a crime club that discusses unsolved murders in exchange for money, shes shocked to realize there are people who believe her brother is innocent and there’s more to the story than originally meets the eye. As she gets caught up in investigating the case that’s traumatised her life, Libby begins to confront the memories of what really happened during the night. Dark Places works well with building to a climactic finale throughout and manages to keep enough mystery and allure going until the end which shockingly reveals what really happened.
The story shifts between events leading up to the fateful night the murders occurred and Libby’s current present day life and although it works well to break the story up, the characters themselves are pale imitations of their book counterparts. It could be argued that a book allows for a deeper level of characterisation but what we get here are almost caricatures of those characters that are so well realized in the book and it hurts the film’s credibility. Further to this is the confusing and sometimes jarring way the film jumps without warning. Its never explicitly revealed whether the scene is a flashback or occurring in present time which can sometimes be confusing with the rate the film flicks between the two time periods. Of course you could nitpick that the characters don’t look like their book counterparts as well and Libby is far too beautiful to be anything like what her grimy book counterpart looks like but its a minor issue and doesn’t detract too much from the film.
Overall, Dark Places is a serviceable adaptation of the book that never quite lives up to the characterisation and pacing the book revels in. Its certainly not a bad film but its slow pace and relentless dark themes won’t make it a big blockbuster anytime soon but it does stay faithful to the book with a story that almost matches it beat for beat. The mystery is intriguing enough to keep you guessing until the end but despite its best intentions, Dark Places doesn’t quite hit the spot to make it anything but an average mystery and a disappointing follow up to Gone Girl.