Super Dark Times, 2017


Ⓒ The Orchard

If anybody asks, we’re already fucked.” – Josh 

Director Kevin Phillips (An Abstraction on the Chronology of Will, 2006 – Short) and writers, Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski travel all the way to 1995, all the way into Stephen King Territory (The thirty-six-year-old yet timeless The Body, a novella published in 1982 as part of the Different Seasons Collection and transposed, by an octave, to the big screen by Rob Reiner, Stand By Me, 1986, a film that went on to win the Oscar for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay) has become part of the collective ‘at the time’ consciousness), or even a 2004 American coming-of-age psychological drama film written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes. Nonetheless, for the adult, middle-age viewers this film is a nostalgic ride back to the days of Needful Things and Low Men in Yellow Coats and even perhaps Speilberg, one of the biggest things to happen to Hollywood is now mainly down to handling Tom Hanks with a Super-8, the State assigned lawyer trying to save a Russian spy from his own people, and also the Russians; the life of a spy is not even close to the privileges that Bond seems to have been granted by the MI6, the life of a spy isn’t getting a sex change and undergoing a procedure for hyperpigmentation. Where was I? Yeah, jealousy, violence, and paranoia are foundations on which the film tries to balance itself carrying such severe and grim subject matter, thinking at times that is it Rope, 1948. So I was speaking of jealousy, violence, and paranoia? Why do I need to speak of it when it’s written all over my face and the way I walk, hunched, with a cigarette secured between the lips and letting the afterglow of an IV nubain ‘calm-the-fuck-down’ shot take me wherever it wants to. Simple.

Nonetheless, however, the film may have turned out to be, it is considered to be one of the hidden or underrated gems on Netflix (wasn’t Netflix created for that purpose only and now I know that the people at Netflix spread the virus, the bacteria, so the cinemas may be closed down and for the keen viewer to spend his hard-earned, charity/borrowed/stolen/severance money on a TV subscription, and rock shows. How utterly Nineties… Oh hey.

So, yeah, even though “Super Garlic (local slang for extremely undesirable circumstances) Times” is well-shot and the performances make the film well-grounded, anchored in the lee of the mystery/horror-island, it is highly derivative, heck, a character is even named John Whitcomb (Ethan Botwick). What helps the film is solid visuals, and the mahogany, with the sunlight creeping in through the trees, the classroom windows, the space between the planks-cinematography by Eli Born (Love Has No Age, 2015Director). The film is pretty stylish and true to its period-piece setting, reminding us that teens have always been rather volatile, forget teens, how many celebrities took their own lives in the Nineties? Right now only Cobain comes to mind.

The final decade of the 20th century was a curious time in history. Mullets and JNCO jeans were running wild, everyone was worried about Y2K, and Vanilla Ice was a successful rap artist. Further, nonnatural deaths had risen 5.5 per 100,000 in 1990 to an average of 11.07 per 100,000 for the 10-year period. In those 10 years, 1,447 of the deaths investigated at the morgue were determined to be suicides*. Then there was the death of an outlook, a sub-culture, with River Phoenix and Freddie Mercury dying untimely and horrifying deaths, along with Frank Zappa and Brandon Lee, among dozens of other stars, that came crashing down, and out. 

Super Dark Times, is depressing, violent and a look at friendships gone to hell. What could’ve been a contender at the Sundance Film Festival, this examination of grinding attachments, guilt, suspicion, and psychosis ended up premiering in the edgy Bright Future section of the Rotterdam Film Festival. The film is shot with certain aesthetics pinioned to making the film a constantly stylish outing and vivid performances from a youthful cast, however, unfortunately, the film loses its footing in the final stretch. While it also reminds of Donnie Darko and the small-town pictures of John Carpenter (The Thing, 1982) and David Cronenberg (Scanners, 1981). There’s also a whiff of Super 8 and Stranger Things here and there, but Super Dark Times has sufficient distinctive flavor, although not enough to make it rise or to do anything new with the genre.

Widescreen images have been used here to relay the characters’ heightened senses after a certain something has happened, tracking the swiftly displacing dynamics between individuals in their high-school years, intensified here by the bloodily extreme circumstances which upset more than one character’s mental equilibrium. Kevin Phillips manages to keep a steady controlling hand on the unfortunate series of the Z-grade outrage, found., 2012 variety-events, and “risks becoming overwrought and self-indulgent”**.

Now, while watching the film, I could feel the dilemma the filmmakers got themselves into, making Times rich with the minutiae of a bygone era, but it sure looks they are pushing for full-blown nostalgia. And then the pace suddenly changes as things enter the Super Dark region, and picks at the disintegration of self, cause and effect, and the vacuum between those. Plus, during all the shrinking of teenage angst and the depiction of tragedy and consequences and human nature, the instinct to kill, to live, to live in purgatory even when partying at a bar with stolen weed.

They could’ve called it Nominal “Dark Times” and it would not have made any difference. Yes, the tension is there but then so is the lazy ending, right there, bang. Like an ugly sculpture, you’re made to admire. The film is far from ugly but you get it.

You know what? It wasn’t that bad but then it wasn’t “Super Dark Times”, pretty intense but we’ve been there before and have come out even more emotionally torn. If anything, the title would settle down comfy with Lucifer Valentine‘s Black Metal Veins, 2012. Now, now, before eyebrows are raised, let me tell you this; being a film-crazy, I get to watch it all.



** Young, Neil writing for the Hollywood Reporter; February 2017

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