This year's Gone Girl?
Despite the commitment of Charlize Theron and the popularity of Gillian Flynn’s original source novel, Dark Places isn’t this year’s Gone Girl.Although Fincher’s more successful elder sibling now overshadows the piece, Dark Places was actually shot around the same time as Gone Girl by French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Obviously intended to be released in time to capitalise on the success of its predecessor, it ended up being buried in straight-to-video and on-demand after preview results probably scared the promoters into cutting their losses. Whether it’s a testament to the strength of Fincher’s skills as a director, of Flynn’s capabilities as a screenwriter (she adapted Gone Girl herself, whereas Paquet-Brenner adapted Dark Places), or possibly even the weaknesses of Flynn’s work, which are only magnified when you don’t have a strong, stylish director to distract you from them, Dark Places is unfortunately largely deserving of being shelved for all this time.The tale follows Theron’s haunted orphan Libby Day, whose childhood tale of horror has been celebrated for decades amongst true crime buffs, with them eventually approaching her to get her to open up about what really happened that fateful night. Despite a strong performance from Theron, who suitably embraces the role, the game cast – involving Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Hoult and Tye Sheridan – largely fail to escape their underdeveloped characters or limited screen time. And the Gone Girl-esque material (complete with diary-like narration and similar nods towards false rumours and mistaken perception and, of course, twists aplenty) simply doesn’t hold up, tracking through a fairly protracted, poorly-paced murder mystery and leading to a suitably contrived finale.
Picture QualityPresented in the UK on a Region-B locked Blu-ray that boasts a likely faithful rendition of the movie with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition transfer framed in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen, Dark Places is gloomy and oftentimes grainy, and very seldom as pristine as you would have hoped for from an HD-shot feature.
Intentionally moody but consequently also quite bland, the video presentation was never likely to be demo worthy.
Detail still frequently impresses, with strong close-ups, skin textures and background nuances evident, although the darker sequences smother some of that around the edges, losing out on the kind of fine shadow detail you might have expected. The colour scheme, often graded – and particularly heavily stylised for the flashback sequences – doesn’t particularly help, with greys abounding and brightness often elusive. It’s a mixed bag of a presentation, which doesn’t quite hold up to close scrutiny, but still gets the job done and likely remains faithful to the source material.
Blu-rayDark Places receives a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 accompaniment, with clear promotion of the dialogue throughout the piece (apart from, funnily enough, the opening whisper), prioritised across the front and centre channels, whilst effects – which are well-utilised to craft a natural background atmosphere – are sharply disseminated across the surrounds.
A suitably haunting and atmospheric aural track provides decent audio.
The score by electronic composer BT is a valiant effort, often elevating the proceedings, and driving the tension even when the narrative and pacing works against this, whilst also allowing for further surround action, and even some LFE accompaniment, which is itself also particularly evident during the club sequences. Whilst still not quite a demo title, this is less inconsistent than the video and largely more impressive.
Blu-ray ExtrasJust a couple of extras, although thankfully not particularly short and lightweight ones, with a 20 minute look behind the production - Bringing Dark Places to Light - and a 10-minute look at the author's original source novel - About the Author: Gillian Flynn and Dark Places, both of which feature plenty of cast and crew interview soundbites, with the likes of Theron and writer Flynn herself on-hand to talk about the piece.
Blu-ray VerdictYou can see why they wanted to bury this insubstantial 'follow-up' to Gone Girl.
Despite a valiant effort from star Charlize Theron, who largely carries the entire movie, inherently difficult source material and a uninspired effort from the director (who also adapted the novel) leaves Dark Places a distinctly forgettable affair. The UK Region B-locked Blu-ray promotes strong video and audio and a couple of nice extras, but is for devoted fans really and only otherwise worth the investigation of a rental.
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