Dark Places (2015) Review: Charlize Theron Driven Psychological Thriller Dark Places (2015) Review: Charlize Theron Driven Psychological Thriller
Dark Places, starring Charlize Theron, is the latest entry in the popular female-driven psychological thriller genre that is currently dominating Hollywood. Dark Places (2015) Review: Charlize Theron Driven Psychological Thriller

The female-driven psychological thriller is the latest trend du jour in Hollywood. Motivated by the massive success of Gone Girl, the genre has exploded with several books, TV shows, and movies embracing the strong-yet-flawed female lead who can figure things out on her own without some guy/potential love interest lending a helping hand. In fact, an argument can be made that the mass appeal of the genre has lead to the addition of Rachel McAdams as one of the detectives in the second season of HBO’s True Detective and the return of The X-Files with Scully still retaining her independence outside of her relationship with Mulder. The latest high-profile entry in the genre is Dark Places, the second movie adaptation of a book by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

Fresh off her performance as the bad-ass Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron takes on the role of another strong-willed character in Dark Places, albeit one that’s a lot more complex. “I like complicated characters,” Theron said when discussing what drew her to the character. “Complicated” is definitely a word that best describes Libby Day, who, as a young witness, pointed the finger at her brother for the brutal murder of her mother and sisters in a small Kansas town nearly 30 years prior. Theron plays an adult Libby, as jaded and cynical as ever when we first meet her in Dark Places, only agreeing to help a bunch of true crime buffs fascinated by the killings – and convinced that her brother is innocent – after they offer her some much-needed cash in exchange for her participation.

French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner tells the tale through a series of flashbacks as the story unfolds. Similar to what he did with Sarah’s Key and Walled In, Paquet-Brenner effectively uses music to set scenes and guide the audience along as plot details slowly unfold. We learn that a young Libby was essentially manipulated by lawyers to implicate her troubled teenage brother Ben (Tye Sheridan). A now grown-up Ben (Corey Stoll) has lost his youthful innocence, which, incidentally, may have been a result of his association with one-time girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz) and their mutual “friend” Trey (J. LaRose) who took advantage of his teenage vulnerabilities, with Trey having been an outright bully and master manipulator. After tracking down present-day Diondra (Andrea Roth), Libby discovers that her daughter Crystal is Ben’s child. It’s Crystal (Denise Williamson) who lets the truth slip and sends Libby running for her life.

Despite a somewhat predictable plot, Theron’s Libby stands out by breaking character stereotypes. While Libby’s search for the truth takes her to bad parts of town and remote locations where nefarious characters tend to dwell in movies, there’s no man waiting in the wings to rescue her. Libby Day may be a deeply flawed individual, but she’s hardly helpless. Even critics not impressed by the movie have praised the Academy Award-winning actress for retaining the character’s fierce independence throughout the film.

On a deeper level, Dark Places is about lingering class differences in America’s Heartland. There’s also a juxtaposition of values that’s explored as the hidden truth revealed in the movie involves child molestation allegations (a teenage Ben’s encounter with a younger girl) and devil worship (suggesting a very dark reason for the killings). Given Flynn’s background as a freelance writer, most notably for Entertainment Weekly, it’s no surprise that the movie also touches on the pop culture fascination with headline-grabbing murders that spawn fanatics like those depicted in the movie. Even the dark tales of Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden still morbidly fascinate the public, with the latter being the inspiration for a recent Lifetime series. There’s also a subtle commentary on the power of the press to influence public opinion, which may have played a role in the determination to convict Ben.

Theron is an excellent choice for the role of Libby, playing her as fiercely independent and driven in her quest for the truth. There’s also a certain vulnerability in her character that comes across as her world unravels when she realizes that her interpretation of “the truth” was very wrong as she uncovers clues suggesting even darker secrets surrounding the murder of her family. While the film isn’t as captivating as Gone Girl, Theron brings a gritty realism to her role as Libby that almost excuses a reliance on rural stereotypes and a setup that leads to only one obvious conclusion once the clues start coming together. Dark Places is currently available exclusively via DirecTV Video on Demand before arriving in theaters on August 7, 2015.

Author Image


Brittni Williams is a freelance writer and blogger from the Midwest. After finishing up school in Arizona, she picked up and moved to Chicago where she currently resides with her cat, Pockets. She primarily covers entertainment topics and the occasional DIY piece. Her interests include playing tennis, traveling, and scouring the city for the best tacos.

  • Welcome aboard. I’m curious to see this movie, as I actually enjoyed this book even more than “Gone Girl”. The switching through the three character’s point of view in different time periods was really well done.

    I’m curious; how did the other “Fury Road”-player Nicholas Hoult do as the “true crime”-club runner, Lyle?

  • todd

    Nice Review. It seems I have quite a lot in common with the author, as well. Most notably location and the Quixotic hunt for the perfect taco.

    The trend toward the “strong, independent female lead” is one I neither laud, nor chide. The gender of the main protagonist in any story (or race, etc), while important in the loose, sub-textual underpinnings of a narrative; has always seemed unimportant to me. I either relate to and am endeared to a character, or I am not. I’m a literal study in shameful simplification.

    The main “objective,” in my opinion, of any story is obviously determined by the motivation of the author(s), but I would rather watch a movie without a “predictable plot,” regardless of the appreciation I have for smashing stereotypes.

    As a fan of Theron, and based on this well written review, I think I’m going to check it out; but someday I hope we as fans of cinema can leave gender relevance in fiction on the backend of critiques. I hope this film, as well as Gone Girl and others, have helped push us in that direction.
    Well done.

  • Sagamanus

    I have to say this interested me and their little murder(investigations) club when I saw the trailer just yesterday.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    Hmm, well I did like Gone Girl. I’ma check it out.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    Who are you and what have you done with Todd.

  • todd

    If anything, this is the “real me.” My Dojo persona, while authentic within its own interest, day to day grumblings, and subterranean humor, is really just an amalgamation of highly stylized inside jokes. Someday, we shall chat for real, Dr. Kajiuologist.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist


  • Tarmac492.1

    I think Hoult will have a nice career. I also thought Milli Vanilli would be bigger than the Jackson 5.

  • Tarmac492.1

    solid review. Given the star power and author it seems the studios, anyway, are not confident about this being a hit. This is probably a cable view for me.

  • Yeah, seems strange it has had so little publicity. Not saying the film is bad, but horrible shit gets promoted all the time, so you’d think someone would have stepped up to give the next “Gone Girl” film some heavy promotion.

  • Lucky13

    Damn, I remember seeing the trailer for this, what feels like more than 6 months ago…. and then not a peep. I had completely forgotten about it.

    I’m looking forward to catching it when it hits Redbox/Netflix.

  • I was not a big fan of “Gone Girl”, so I think I will catch this later when it’s for rent.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Gonna check this out. Nice review

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    I caught this last night, and you can definitely tell it is by the same author of Gone Girl (Flynn). The movie was good and Theron was excellent as usual. You really can’t compare the two films; Gone Girl is a much better film, with a better director, and the performance by Rosamund Pike is off the chain! Dark Places is a nice film, elevated by, as usual, an excellent performance by Theron. Worth a look

  • Tarmac492.1

    cool. Still puzzles me why dump in to VOD? I realize this is not so much a stigma anymore, but you would think they could find some space on the calendar for a theatrical release.