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Super Dark Times [2017]: Fantasia Film Festival Review

This pulsating, almost unforgiving little thriller opens with a drastically bloody opening act. While it holds little relevance to anything that follows, it is one of those things that aptly establishes what the title of the film point towards. Trimming out portions of characterizations and sappy high-school moments, Kevin Phillips’s ‘Super Dark Times’ violently plunges into doubt, suspicion and psychological damage that small mistakes could lead to. In doing so, he drenches his central character in a coming of age nightmare that completely wrecks everything in plain sight.




Set in 1995 – America (which is only understood from a neatly put, infamous speech by Bill Clinton), the film evokes other similar counterparts both – old and new. The small town, low-key setup reminded me of the recent Television prodigy ‘Stranger Things‘ and the dark-toned, nightmarish imagery is reminiscent to Richard Kelly’s cult-classic ‘Donnie Darko.’ Especially the bit where the group of teenagers ride the town on their bikes complaining about girls, porn and road-side bullies.

 

Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are best friends. Most of their time is spent on talking about girls, intergalactic fights, porn and other nerdy stuff. They both have a thing for a girl but each finds it enough to have the company of the other. They do hang out with the hefty, foul-mouthed dude – Daryl and Charlie, who is the younger brother of their classmates. On one of these days, they decide to take Josh’s brother’s Ninja sword out for a spin and something terrible happens.   

It all starts with a sword getting into the wrong belly and slowly unfolds a narrative of breathless moments of psychological dissemination that more than once crosses the lines of going too far. The haunting score and sharp camera work take you into the ever darkening and drastic downfall of innocence. The film astutely observes how carefree youth descends into rage and destruction with the haunting passing of time. When secrets become too heavy on the head and heart and there’s only little room for them to breathe. 




When the incident happens, contrary to what people believe, the youngest of the three kids – Charlie, manages to maintain a cool exterior and get on with his daily routine. We see him playing video games and driving wisdom along Zach’s way who is slowly losing it. Zach is the generic teenager found in most high school films. He is a modest, happy and loving guy who doesn’t get into trouble over anything. However, he is slowly crumbling into self-doubt and loss of his own self. His best friend Josh has completely shut himself in, and there’s no one he could talk to. Not even his mother, who is portrayed as the ‘cool mom’ from the word go.

Kevin’s film is filled with generic characters and there’s not much he does to really make them memorable. However, the kids who play them are fantastic. Owen Campbell is a revelation as the shy young boy who slowly delves into unprecedented distress of being a part of something he can’t simply let go. So is Charlie Tahan (The Harvest) who plays the nerdy, needy kid swallowing a storm inside himself. There’s a point where a girl is trying to seduce him and all he cares about is Zelda being a princess. 

‘Super Dark Times’ is a well-made debut feature. Even though we are left reeling to know what really triggers the third act, Kevin manages to leave us breathless with utterly destructive moments of innocence being crushed over by a mess that can’t be cleaned. 

★½

“Super Dark Times” premiered at the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.
The Orchard will release it in theaters later this year.

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