In Kevin Phillips' feature debut Super Dark Times
the story plays like a reversed version of Rob Reiner's 1986 classic Stand By Me
. In that film, a group of teenagers head out on a trip to find the dead body of a missing boy, and become the heroes of the town. In Super Dark Times
, a group of teenagers find themselves in an accident, resulting in the death of a classmate, and try to hide what happened. The reason I'm mentioning both films in the same sentence is that both succeed for the same reasons: they feature believable teenage kids.
In Super Dark Times
we see a simple story told extremely well. Central in the film are Zach and Josh, played by an absolutely fantastic Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan. Both characters are the best of friends, nice kids, trying to trash-talk at times but being too well-behaved to be successful at it. They're funny, nerdy, smart and extremely stupid in believable doses. Just spending time with them is fun enough in itself, and you quickly end up not wanting bad stuff to happen to them.
But bad stuff does happen, and then the point of view turns to Zach, who is arguably the nicest kid in the bunch. What should have become one of the best times of his life gets inextricably soured by the experience. Guilt leads to sleeplessness and worse: isolation and paranoia. For the first time in years, Zach and Josh stop seeing eye to eye. And is Zach going crazy, or is someone plotting against them?
The intelligent script allows for several scenarios to possibly play out, from super to dark, to (indeed) super-dark. At times the film becomes a nail-bitingly tense thriller, making good on the age-old movie wisdom that a bad situation get a lot scarier when you actually care about the characters. It helps that for once, we get 17-year-old kids playing 17-year-old kids. And the art-direction has made sure their rooms look like the ones 17-year-olds live in, meaning half of the walls are still decorated like they're 13-year-olds.
Director Kevin Phillips looks at these teenagers with a caring, yet unsparing eye. And as he has a background as a cinematographer, it all looks damn good, though not in a way which distracts too much.
I've used the words "care" and "caring" in this review, and it's basically what impresses most about Super Dark Times
. It is a film in which every aspect has been given noteworthy attention, and the end-result just clicks and feels right. This film works both as a thriller and as a rather extreme coming-of-age drama, and comes very much recommended.
(Super Dark Times is currently playing at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it enjoyed its World Premiere last Sunday.)
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