Fantasia 2017: ‘SUPER DARK TIMES’ Review
Kevin Phillips’ feature directorial debut is a knock-out. There’s no other way to put it, really. Comparison is being made by many to Stand By Me, but I think it’s closer to Jacob Estes’ 2004 thriller Mean Creek. To talk about either film, the same spoiler is unavoidable: a bully dies, accidentally, and the rest of the film is how the characters deal with it. Where the two films depart is that fallout and the tone therein. Mean Creek handles how the guilt can consume you, and while Super Dark Times absolutely deals with that, the manifestation of it is drastically different. It’s strange, occasionally comedic, and always intriguing.
Teen friends Josh (Charlie Tahan) and Zach (Owen Campbell) are watching scrambled porn on a tube TV and discussing girls at school. Ahh, the 90’s. As boys do, they ride their bikes to get snacks at a quick stop, where they run into a kid they don’t really know, Charlie (Sawyer Barth), and a kid they don’t really like, Daryl (Max Talisman). They try gross squid snacks, get into mischief, raid Josh’s brother’s stuff, and end up with some pot and a samurai sword — great combo. This don’t quite go how you’d expect though, and soon enough Daryl is running through the woods with a gaping neck wound. Panic ensues, they ditch the weapon, and decide to forget anything happened. Problem is that Zach can’t forget it, and the day dreams and nightmares he’s having are consuming him. His mom Karen (Amy Hargreaves) helps him deal without actually knowing what he’s dealing with. Soon enough his grief is manifesting itself as paranoia, and it’s affecting Zach’s would-be relationship with Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) more and more. Then things get messy.
Stranger Things aside, the best “kids being kids” movie I’d seen before this was a gem called Funeral Kings from 2012 (see it, you’ll love it). Even when the dialogue is raunchy and stupid, kids don’t act like kids unless they ARE kids, and that’s where Super Dark Times shines off the bat. The cast is great, and their interaction with each other (and with the mother) is fantastically real. I’d see Charlie Tahan is a number of things before, and I knew he was good going in (and he’s good here too). But Owen Campbell was my favorite part of this film. He’s like the best parts of young Emilio Estevez and young Jake Gyllenhaal, and he handles some really complex, adult material extremely well. His scenes with Elizabeth Cappuccino are the perfect embodiment of awkward teenage love. Could go on an on about this kid, he’s terrific. Kevin Phillips is the MVP here, turning a good thriller script into something a lot more. His character direction is excellent, and his style becomes more evident as the movie goes on. He’s one to watch.
I haven’t even touched on the bizarre opening sequence, the Antichrist homage, or the most unnerving dream sequence in recent memory…make that sequences, actually…or the unexpected violence. This is a unique take on this “accidental death” sub-genre that isn’t depressing and dour, but rather suspenseful and unpredictable. Less coming of age and more coming of…strange. Look forward to this one, everybody
Good news! In addition to playing at Fantasia 2017, Super Dark Times is out on VOD either September 29th or October 3rd. We’ll keep you updated once we know for sure!
Great kid actors and a director who knows how to direct them. Goes in an unexpected, refreshing, direction. Some much needed comedic bits are dusted in there to keep the dark from taking over.
Some of the character reactions don't seem to feel as real as the situation deserves. One scene is particularly cringe worthy, but I quickly forgave it.