Boys will be boys. Isn’t that how the saying goes? For four teens hanging out in upper New York state, an afternoon of bike riding and girl watching turns deadly in Super Dark Times.
Premiering at the Fantasia International Film Fest on July 13th, Super Dark Times was directed by Kevin Phillips from a script written by A Head Full of Ghosts (2018) writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowksi. This 2017 Tribeca Film Festival Selection stars Owen Campbell (Bitter Feast 2010), Charlie Tahan (I Am Legend 2007), Elizabeth Cappuccino (Jessica Jones TV series), Max Talisman (Max Out TV series), Sawyer Barth (Bridge of Spies 2015) and Amy Hargreaves (Blue Ruin 2013, 13 Reasons Why series).
A harrowing but meticulously observed look at teenage lives in the era prior to the Columbine High School massacre, Super Dark Times marks the feature debut of gifted director Kevin Phillips , whose critically acclaimed 2015 short film Too Cool For School premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are best friends growing up in a leafy upstate New York suburb in the 1990s, where teenage life revolves around hanging out, looking for kicks, navigating first love and vying for popularity. When a traumatic incident drives a wedge between the previously inseparable pair, their youthful innocence abruptly vanishes. Each young man processes the tragedy in his own way, until circumstances grow increasingly complex and spiral into violence. Phillips dives headlong into the confusion of teenage life, creating an evocative atmosphere out of the murky boundaries between adolescence and adulthood, courage and fear, and good and evil.
Let me start with the cinematography. The dreary, dark tones, blinding sunshine and late autumn timeline do wonders for setting the mood in Super Dark Times. Like a teenager on the verge of making their own decisions, the atmosphere in this film is at times painful, hard to focus on, depressing and hopeless. The timeline also worked very well – the film takes places in 1995, four years before the Columbine shooting and a decade before cell phones were the norm for the average high schooler. Little things like the soundtrack (The Cars, anyone?) and the boys watching scrambled porn will bring so many audience members back to their pre-millennial childhoods.
The casting in the film was spot on – the four teenage boys in this film played their roles perfectly. Unlike the teen characters in shows like Glee or Teen Wolf, these guys aren’t gorgeous, perfectly dressed or drop-of-the-hat witty. Instead, they’re just like every other teenage boy in the world: awkward, insecure and stumbling through life. They never know what to say and when they do talk, you can’t help but cringe. Check out the video below to get an idea of what I’m talking about.
You’ve got to love the bit about rewatching the scene in True Lies (1994) where Jamie Lee Curtis strips. You don’t get much more awkward teenage boy than that. The scene above reminds me of Stand By Me (1986) as well. This film could be those same four boys – Chris, Gordie, Teddy and Vern – going on another adventure a few years later. There were glimpses of Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age film from start to finish. There were also influences of River’s Edge (1986), Donnie Darko (2001) and even Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012), some of the most relatable films of all time.
What Doesn’t Work
Although Super Dark Times is definitely a tense period piece, it is not a horror movie except in the very broadest sense. It’s also not a very fast faced film. The climax was fantastic and perfectly executed, but the trip there was short on action. Not to say it wasn’t interesting, because the story is fascinating, but it’s just wasn’t action packed.
If you’re a fan of any of the above films mentioned – especially Stand By Me or River’s Edge – then you’re sure to love Super Dark Times. The film is beautifully crafted, finely executed and gorgeously shot. If you’re looking for a straight up horror film, you might want to go somewhere else. But you should definitely come back to this one once you get that scary movie fix.
Super Dark Times was dedicated in loving memory of Matthew Harfield 1984-2014, best boy grip in Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), who died from complications from aortic stenosis.