It has been said that the journey can be more exciting than the destination. Kevin Phillips’s new movie Super Dark Times subscribes to this line of thinking. This thriller tips its hand early, telegraphing the film’s direction. Unfortunately, the story told is rather standard and does little to interest the audience.
Super Dark Times is about teenagers Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) whose friendship becomes strained after a tragic accident involving Daryl (Max Talisman), a kid they sometimes hang out with but don’t seem to like. The movie apparently takes place in the early 1990s, though this is not made clear at any point. There is a Bill Clinton campaign commercial and Josh listens to music on his Walkman, but these are the only clues. This is the film’s first issue: it lacks an identity. It is impossible to tell if it is trying to induce a sense of nostalgia, make some sort of social commentary about how times still have not changed, or whether the time frame is chosen simply for aesthetic purposes. The early 1990s were a vibrant time filled with political and social changes, yet here it’s used for window dressing.
This lack of identity continues with the characters. At its core, the film is a love triangle that inevitably goes terribly awry. There is nothing wrong with the premise, however the movie has an array of characters that get substantial screen time yet serve no real purpose. Zach’s mom Karen (Amy Hargreaves) is arguably the best character in the film. Karen seems to be raising Zach on her own. She relates to him and understands that her son is going through an important time in his life. The audience immediately recognizes her as the “cool” mom. She’s in the film more than Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino), who is the third part of the teenaged love triangle. Karen seems like she will have an important part to play, but aside from being a loving mom, her role is completely superfluous. Karen is just one of many characters who are in the film during key moments only to be effectively erased with just a one-off line.
The writing, for the most part, doesn’t stand out. Super Dark Times has a story to tell and never deviates from it or offer any surprised. Then there is the character of Daryl, who is one of the most poorly written characters of the year. It’s not uncommon for movies to have a character that’s only there for the audience to hate. The character is written to be so annoying that those watching the film cannot wait for them to get “what they deserve.” Daryl is abrasive, vulgar, petty and very easy to dislike, which is the point. But instead of wanting to see him get shown up, I found myself just wanting him to get off the screen. This has nothing to do with Talisman’s acting or performance and is solely due to the poor writing.
The movie does have bright spots. Most notably, the film perfectly captures what it’s like to be a teenager. The boys have conversations one would expect from teenagers, including a ridiculous number of F-bombs. Sexual discovery is also a big part of the film. These are the most natural parts of the film. Instead of a cliched story that can be ridiculous at times, the audience watches teenagers try to navigate their way into adulthood.
The mood and color palette of the movie is also well established. There are many shots of orange leaves and gray skies. It’s one of the prettier movies of the year. But this is not the type of beauty that gives a warm feeling inside. The movie is showing a thin veneer of beauty that masks something darker. There are no bright, sunny days here, just a constant sense of impending trouble.
Charlie Tahan is easily the standout. He’s great in his role as Josh. Initially, he’s a horny, socially awkward teenage boy. Josh is the only character that shows any sort of arc during the course of the movie, and Tahan conveys the changes well.
Though it tries to be more, Super Dark Times is little more than another thriller. The film seems content to get by on its competent camera work and little else. It’s never horrible, but it also never rises above average.