Super Dark Times (2017) REVIEW – A Horrifying Coming of Age Tale
"It’s ultimately the film's attention to the inner turmoil of its characters that elevates Super Dark Times above being a simple slasher."
The older I get, the more I gravitate towards coming of age tales that encompass the adolescent years that shape us all into the people we’ll become. More specifically, I gravitate towards coming of age films that use characters with relatable traits to tell stories that I can’t necessarily relate to. Not being able to relate to situations isn’t important once an audience has become invested in the characters. Films such as The Kings of Summer or The Perks of Being a Wallflower both present such relatable and organic characters that I became invested in no matter how unreliable their tale was.
This is director Kevin Phillip’s greatest achievement in his debut film Super Dark Times, which capitalizes on the coming of age tale by taking relatable characters and turning their world upside down.
Super Dark Times tells the story of four adolescent outcasts in New Jersey in the 1990s, who find solace in their ability to bond over their favorite films, bizarre foods from the local gas station, and girls they have crushes on. But when a horrific accident occurs, it sends our outcasts down a rabbit hole of paranoia, grief, and resentment which all act as a wedge that threatens the foundation of their friendship. The rate at which events spiral out of their control is one of pure adrenaline and gripping terror. The plot is a slow burn, as tension gradually builds at the notion of the unknown about how events will resolve themselves or if they ever will.
What instantly stood out to me about Super Dark times was its portrayal of the banality of suburban life: groups of kids with too much free time and no supervision, and the ramifications for this freedom are incredibly grounded and instantly drew me in. Part of what sells this is a largely unknown cast of adolescent actors. Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan stand out from the group as the film’s plot largely revolves around how they deal with the cascade of events. They portray prime candidates for a “loser club” group of outcasts and understanding what makes them different, but ultimately similar to one another, is not only integral to the story but also to discerning them as people.
Herein lies Super Dark Times’ greatest achievement: presenting a believable, heartwarming, and horrifying coming of age tale of friendship, love, and self-acceptance. Tapping into the nostalgia for coming of age stories set in yesteryear, the genre is experiencing a resurgence amongst films and TV series like Super 8 and Stranger Things. The ability of Super Dark Times to encapsulate my adolescence and then completely shatter it in a freak accident rocked me in a way I was not prepared for and made me glad that I no longer get up to mischief in the woods with my friends.
There’s a home movie vibe throughout Super Dark Times, which ultimately aids the constant sense of unease and tension as events quickly unfold and spiral out of control. The cinematography of sleepy suburban neighborhoods hiding the evil that unfolds is unsettling yet familiar to anyone that grew up in a town similar to our outcasts. This film feels personal not only to its director but to me as well. I saw myself in a lot of these characters despite the climactic events that they experience. This is a film that analyzes what it’s like to grow up wondering about the role you’re supposed to fill in the world. Director Kevin Phillips’ style is similar, in terms of both pacing and cinematography, to that of director Jeremy Saulnier’s (Blue Ruin, Green Room). Both directors similarly handle graphic violence in their films, by having it occur infrequently, but when it does occur it’s memorable and shocks the viewer out of the lull that there methodically paced films coax us into.
Super Dark times is a horrifying coming of age tale that shatters a picturesque suburban life, showing viewers that bad things happen to good people. It’s ultimately the film’s attention to the inner turmoil of its characters that elevates Super Dark Times above being a simple slasher. The ending feels a tad hamfisted in its execution, but by and large is a fantastic debut film for Kevin Phillips, and I’m excited to see how he follows it up.
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