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Super Dark Times Review

Super Dark Times is a 2017 thriller about teenagers who have been best friends their whole lives, but when an accident leads to a cover-up, the secret drives a wedge between them.

There’s a jarring opening to Kevin PhillipsSuper Dark Times that initially seems entirely adjacent to the rest of the film, and it reminded me of the brilliant start to Karyn Kusama‘s The Invitation, where we begin with an eerie yet strangely prescient start before the story really starts. It lingers in the peripheral however and sets a somber tone for the rest of the film, itself an astonishingly well-acted and distressing experience that has profound impact.

Set in the mid-90s, high schoolers Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) have been best friends for ages and spend all their time together, being kids, flipping through yearbook pages for pretty girls, playing games and riding bikes. They hang sometimes with middle schooler Charlie (Sawyer Barth) and a fellow student named Daryl (Max Talisman), an obnoxious, overweight troublemaker who is clearly just trying to fit it. Bored and little to do but bum around the small town, they end up in a clearing near the woods with Josh’s older brother’s prized samurai sword. An argument starts and in a scuffle, the worst happens and one of the ends up dead. Panicked, the others make a rash decision, one that as the days and weeks pass begins to unravel everything in their lives.

The first thirty minutes of Super Dark Times plays like a cinematic ode to small town Americana, like the early films of David Gordon Green, following the boys through their rural landscape, crossing closed bridges, loitering in front of shops and pedaling the empty roads of their neighborhoods. If it weren’t for the opening sequence, it would feel like something altogether different, but as such, is almostly unrelenting stressful. Like kids with a loaded gun, we know trouble is coming, and after it does, the film shifts into a paranoid mystery where the boys take very different paths. Where Phillips (in his feature length film debut) succeeds most in the second half is how very dark he lets it become, and while we are never very sure where it’s going, we know it’s going to a very bad place. And that it does.

It’s easy to try and think of a larger message to the violence, to the actions of these boys, perhaps some subtle commentary on youth in America, but searching for answers is not the point. The metaphor of aimless, isolated teens with nowhere to go but in circles is one we’ve seen before, and Phillips doesn’t hide the symbolism, with the adults in the story almost like those garbled voices in a Peanuts cartoon, indecipherable and lost on the kid’s they are speaking to. We rarely even see an adult, aside from Zach’s single mother (Amy Hargreaves), who herself barely has influence, she’s just happy for a hug. That leaves the children on their own, and as such there is experimentation and fantasy alongside jealousy and overreaction. Just like grownups.

Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, Super Dark Times is intelligent and convincing. The dialogue is sharp and the cast, most especially Campbell and Tahan, deliver some of the most natural performances on screen this year. While the film will surely feel like it’s controversial, it feels much more sincere than anything else. Every step leading to its troubling end is well-earned and Phillips makes a pretty bold statement as a filmmaker. He’s one to watch, and so is this poignant, traumatizing, thought-provoking film.

Super Dark Times Review

Movie description: Super Dark Times is a 2017 thriller about teenagers who have been best friends their whole lives, but when an accident leads to a cover-up, the secret drives a wedge between them.

Director(s): Kevin Phillips

Actor(s): Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Cappuccino

Genre: Drama, Thriller

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