The most interesting and most disappointing thing about “Dark Places” is its authorship. A plodding, low-budget, would-be thriller, “Dark Places” is based on a best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn.
Flynn’s third novel, 2012’s “Gone Girl,” was a hit with readers and critics. The 2014 film adaptation of “Gone Girl” received much the same reaction.
David Fincher (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) directed “Gone Girl” from Flynn’s screenplay. He isn’t involved in “Dark Places.” Flynn didn’t write its screenplay. Frenchmen Gilles Paquet-Brenner (“Pretty Things”) gets the blame for writing and directing the film adaptation of Flynn’s 2009 novel.
“Dark Places” isn’t in the same league as “Gone Girl.” In addition to missing Fincher’s and Flynn’s distinctive touches, it lacks “Gone Girl’s” top-notch cast.
Besides Flynn, Oscar-winner Charlize Theron is the bankable name in “Dark Places.” Playing the lone survivor of an attack on her Kansas farm family in 1985, Theron mopes through an implausible, convoluted story. It’s more dull than dark.
In the years since her two sisters and mother were murdered, Theron’s Libby Day has lived on the kindness of strangers, nationwide sympathy that inspired boxes of mail and monetary donations. She also benefited from sales of a book, “A Brand New Day,” the autobiography she neither wrote nor read.
When the adult Libby first appears in “Dark Places,” she’s in her 30s, but still living like an adolescent. Thanks to the donations, she’s never had to work. But nearly three decades after the murders, the donations have dried up. Libby’s money handler (Jim Jeffreys) says her account has dwindled to $482.
“I’m not ready for this,” Libby says.
Months late in paying her rent, Libby receives a last-minute lifeline. An enthusiastic young man, Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), offers to pay her to be the special guest at a true-crime convention. Lyle belongs to The Kill Club, a group of true-crime fans that includes a subgroup of amateur private detectives.
Lilly reluctantly accepts Lyle’s invitation to the convention. She’s anything but gracious there. An offer of more money, though, persuades her to cooperate with Lyle’s and his Kill Club friends’ investigation into the slaying of her family.
Paquet-Brenner presents Libby’s story through constant shifting between past and present. Rather than clarify the story or give it momentum, these endless flashbacks grow tiring. Young and older versions of Libby’s alleged Satan-worshipper brother, Ben (Tye Sheridan and Corey Stoll respectively), further muddy the water.
“Dark Places” and Theron, whose monotonous performance and voiceover narration drag through the movie, both disappoint. A fuzzy, failed redemption story, “Dark Places” is never moving and almost never suspenseful.