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It is hard to ignore a film which has Charlize Theron once again paired with Nicolas Hoult and has alongside them, Christina Hendricks and Chloe Grace Moretz. For these actors, as a collective, alongside a synopsis about murder mystery, just leads you to wonder who plays who, who of them might be the murderer, and with Theron, Moretz, and Hoult usually having decent role choices, I must admit I was intrigued enough to sit and watch this, despite it being nearly 2 hours.
Trigger Warning(s): Conversations on Child Molestation, Implied Animal Cruelty, and Depiction of Murder and Dead Bodies.
Characters & Story
When Libby (Charlize Theron) was 7 years old, her sisters and mother were murdered within earshot of her, and her brother Ben (Corey Stoll) not to long afterwards went to prison, mostly based on her testimony. Decades later, after being touted as the sole survivor of the massacre, Libby is worse for wear. She has post-traumatic stress disorder, and dreams of her family’s screams; she seemingly has lived off of charity most of her adult life, and hasn’t much to show for it; and now she is running out of cash and forced to be open to some options which take her out of her comfort zone.
Enter Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), founder of the Kill Club which has many members who are quite enthusiastic about murder mysteries. However, while many of them are legit freaks it seems, there are those who skew more toward investigating and trying to solve crimes. Hence why Lyle tracked Libby down for he, alongside his members, think Ben is innocent.
Thus crafting a story in which we go back and forth between past and present in order to learn whether Ben was all we get told. Was he really a child molester? Did he really murder his entire family? Also, there is the question of whether he worked alone, killed under the influence of Satan, or a slew of other theories.
Me enjoying a movie which is nearly two hours is rare. For one, I think it is ridiculously hard to balance the tension needed to keep someone’s attention for 2 hours, and not seem like you are dragging out the story in the process. However, like Mindscape, between going back and forth through time, and learning little by little as the film goes on, you may feel as I did and will begin questioning if anyone introduced might be the true murderer.
I mean, while Ben seems a good candidate at times, then you Trey (Shannon Kook), who is a Native American Satanist; Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz), who you can tell has Ben wrapped around her little finger; then there is Runner (Sean Bridgers), who is Libby’s dad who clearly is off his rocker, and would do anything for money; and even in the present, there is this air of mystery which makes you question everyone’s motive. For example, as nice as Lyle seems, being that he is part of the Kill Club and has this slight air of creepiness, it makes you wonder if his intentions are pure and whether he may end up being some sort of psycho trying to finish the massacre, or maybe Ben’s kid trying to get him out.
And that is what kept me going throughout the movie, because it has the type of build which constantly keeps you guessing about the main storyline’s mystery, and it creates situations where you begin thinking about mysteries which aren’t even directly noted.
Speaking on performances, though, everyone pretty much brings the standard you expect of them. Theron holds strong as the lead and commands you to take note of her life, and brings whatever pain Libby has experienced in childhood into her entire being; Hoult is likeable, yet slightly off-putting, and presents a challenge to your thoughts due to wondering if his motives are as pure as they seem, or if perhaps, at one crucial moment, he may surprise you and be as wicked as the freaks who finance his club; then with Moretz, after Clouds of Sils Maria we have seen she is capable of doing more than what many actresses get stuck in, see Emma Stone, but as she explores more and more complex characters, who aren’t simply dark because they curse up a storm, but have hidden agendas and personas which can’t easily be placed as good nor evil, it does show her talent. Something I would say isn’t in full force here, but the potential of her playing someone with moral ambiguity, or who can neither be claimed fully as a hero or villain, becomes quite enticing, and exciting to think about, after watching her in this movie.
As interesting as this movie is, I won’t pretend I sat straight through it, eyes glued to the screen, and not being able to get enough. For, honestly, watching this movie is like being tired and yet continuing to sip a cup of coffee. Yes, you are alert and focused, but even with so much details, and intrigue, there comes a point where the back and forth through time sequences, while executed well, will make you feel like they are just extending this movie past the time it needs.
Which I say because, ultimately, once you find out who murdered Libby’s family, it isn’t a big time shock and grand OMG! It just makes enough sense to be plausible since the film sets things up so that it doesn’t seem far out of left field. At the same time, though, with the ending not being as shocking as writer Gillian Flynn’s other well-known property, Gone Girl, it may leave you a bit disappointed.
I should note, though, Flynn did not write the screenplay for this film, as she did Gone Girl.
Overall: Worth Seeing
I rarely ever claim a movie this long to be anything but TV Viewing, but even with my focus wavering every now and then, I don’t think I have watched a mystery/ thriller that has really intrigued me this much in quite some time. Plus, as a testament to Flynn’s talents, even when there isn’t some big shocking ending, she still laid the foundation for screenwriter Gilles Paquet-Brenner to make a compelling, step by step, back and forth through time, story which never fails to keep you interested. Add on that the film somehow makes it so both the past and present are equal in how much interest they maintain, and of course the actors continue to present themselves as safe names for your viewing curiosity, and you get a movie Worth Seeing.
“Forgiveness. My mom told us to make it useful. Nothing big, nothing grand, just a start.”
— Dark Places