Super Dark Times
Teenagers Zach and Josh have been best friends their whole lives, but when a gruesome accident leads to a cover-up, the secret drives a wedge between them and propels them down a rabbit hole of escalating paranoia and violence.
When it comes to suspense films populated by teenage characters, there are lots of elements that can mean the difference between hit or miss. However, mood could well be the most important. A mood that’s perfectly on point can convince an audience to forgive plenty of other things and Super Dark Times definitely delivers in that department, but is it enough to earn this directorial debut from Kevin Phillips a spot on your must-see list?
Super Dark Times follows the story of two teenage best friends, Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan). As might be expected of two young boys growing up in the 90’s, they spend plenty of time running from bullies, talking about comic books, and enjoying every second of time they have away from the prying eyes of adults. However, you shouldn’t assume that you know what you’re getting with Super Dark Times because it resembles familiar films like It or Stand By Me on the surface. A trauma-inducing accident followed by a cover-up is the catalyst for a disturbingly dark loss of innocence that finds Zach and Josh grappling with familiar issues like paranoia, jealousy, violence, and their aftereffects.
Super Dark Times definitely manages to grab the viewer’s attention and make them feel caught up in the misadventures of Josh and Zach. However, it’s not the events of the film that do the job. This may be Phillips’s first time in the director’s chair, but he’s flawless at creating that ever-important mood right from the get-go. There’s no slow-burn or plodding build-up to sit through here. The very first sequence can’t help but leave you breathless, horrified, and curious about the rest of the film. Phillips does an excellent job of telling us a story that somehow manages to feel completely familiar while keeping us frantically guessing at what to expect next.
The treatment of the 90’s is also on point. Some period films try way too hard to make sure the viewer knows they’re not observing present day events, hitting them over the head repeatedly with pop culture references that can feel forced and distracting. Super Dark Times chooses to take you back to the 1990’s in subtle ways. Your biggest clues as to where and “when” the story takes place are the approaches as far as how different characters interact with one another and their environment.
Director Phillips, along with cinematographer Eli Born, also do a great job of allowing the New England landscape in which the film unfolds to tell a lot of the story. The town where Zach and Josh live looks cozy on the surface, but it’s also disturbingly quiet and unsettlingly lonely – a terrific metaphor for the way a young person’s formative teenage years can feel. The stunning opening scene lets us know right away that something isn’t quite right here. Something feels off and out of control, adding beautifully to the unsettled mood of the film as a whole. The bridge that leads out of town is even dilapidated and closed off, letting us know that there’s no escape hatch to make a break for if things go awry. Much like Zach and Josh, the audience will simply have to accept what comes for better or worse.
To be fair, Super Dark Times isn’t perfect. For instance, the plotline from open to climax doesn’t always feel clear or like it makes the sense you might want it to. However, the storyline really isn’t the star here. It’s the stunningly executed mood, the cinematography, and the unique brand of suspense that really make this movie shine. That said, it’s definitely one to add to your list if you love tense coming of age films that really think outside the box. Don’t miss it!