Super Dark Times 2017
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.
September 29, 2017
Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski
Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, and Elizabeth Cappuccino
George Bernard Shaw famously opined that “Youth is wasted on the young”; more recently, reggae-rapper Matisyahu sang “Youth is the engine of the world”. In both cases, the sentiment paints the rebellious, intoxicating days of youth as a gift, something to cherish and treasure. In the film Super Dark Times, directed by Kevin Phillips and now available on VOD, however, youth is a curse, an affliction, a time of danger, tragedy, and—well, super darkness. This un-romanticized and nihilistic portrayal strips away the nostalgia and glitter of being a teenager, revealing a sickening underbelly to the hormone-ravaged days of physiological changes and sexual awakenings. After watching Super Dark Times, one might wonder why tragedies like the one portrayed don’t happen more often, as raging internal chemistries combined with an inherent lack of impulse control makes for a lethal concoction—and yet this is a minefield every teenage boy and girl must navigate daily if he or she hopes to survive into adulthood. In these days of escalating violence, that last sentence hardly feels over-exaggerated.
Official Synopsis: 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.
Before slapping rose-tinted glasses of our faces, Super Dark Times teases us with the popular stereotypes of youth. Silhouettes of boys on bikes instantly summons the vibe of 1980’s adventure movies like E.T. and The Goonies, imagery adapted more recently by the likes of Stranger Things and Andy Muschietti’s IT. We’re drawn in with infectious bits of conversations, the kind of teenage banter that feel familiar and funny. “Who would you fuck?” “What would you do if your hands got cut off?” and other seemingly genuine nuggets of ridiculousness. But it’s all a ploy, a ruse, a set-up for devastation, as Phillips pulls back the curtain—slowly at first. Josh (played by Charlie Tahan) even states “I’m never going to die; I’m invincible!” at which point we begin to suspect he’s asking for it—and his unbridled optimism and illusion of power will lead him to a super dark place. In Act 1, he stands on the edge of a bridge over a rushing river, knowing that a plunge into the icy waters below would be deadly—and still we all half expect him to jump.
The film centers on Zach, played to perfection by Owen Campbell. We experience everything from his perspective, and Campbell effectively emotes the kind of genuine intensity that leaves the audience shattered. His journey is complex and harrowing, as the devastating secret that drives the film coincides with feelings of love and romance. But the affections of a beautiful girl aren’t enough to overshadow the guilt, fear, and paranoia spawned in Act 1; instead, desires for sex and contact are bound with images of death a violence. His awakening is both exciting and psychologically crippling, as the perceived freedom of youth becomes a prison.
Puberty changes everything; even childhood friends can grow into strangers, adversaries, and even enemies before the metamorphic transformations are complete. Friendships becomes treacherous minefields themselves, situations that must be maneuvered with extreme caution to avoid explosive confrontations. And with hormones clouding the brain, many teens become indistinguishable from sociopaths; even good kids can become trapped by their raging desires, transformed by their anxieties, resulting in selfish actions any objective mind would deem deplorable.
In a recent interview with Daily Dead, Phillips explained his intensions and motivations; I’m sharing them here since his words will enhance your viewing experience without spoiling any of the action.
Phillips: We always wanted to bring a uniqueness to the movie. Naturally, all of us filmmakers, we set out to do that in anything. The project in a certain sense became very personal because we wanted it to feel that way to viewers. We did want to mine our childhood experiences, having grown up in the ’90s as well, and bring a sense of authenticity to that by reflecting our own lives. I always wanted to make a beautiful film in every respect.
This movie could have gone a few different directions, but for me, the thematic qualities of this movie, at the end of the day, were the most important things. And in order to do right by that, I wanted to make them fully realized and conventional, so with that, I wanted to be very expressive with the filmmaking, and hopefully create a sense of vocabulary cinematically that an audience could relate to.
Those expecting a straight-forward horror movie might be disappointed, as Super Dark Times plays out more like a procedural mystery or a docudrama. The horror is mundane, but also harrowing, speaking to both the banality of evil and the potential tragedy lurking behind every seemingly random interaction. In many ways, Super Dark Times feels like Larry Clark’s Kids (released in 1995), and not just for the chronological settings. Both begin with a voyeuristic window into youth culture before descending into shocking depravity. There are moments of creative exposition, but the bulk of the film is deadly serious and bone-dry in its presentation. The impeccable performances by the film’s leads breathe life and, occasionally, hope into this depressing meditation.
Bottom Line: Super Dark Times has been compared to Stand by Me, but it’s an infinitely more terrifying beast; not for its horrifying manifestations, but for its glamour-free portrayal of violence, fear, and manipulations. The climax is harrowing and heartbreaking, but the film offers a glimmer of hope among the mountains of despair. Super Dark Times is something of a slow-burn, something of an allegory, but mostly, it’s an unflinching look at what it really means to be a teenager.