Super Dark Times (2017)
Directed by Kevin Phillips
Written by Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski
Produced by Edward Parks, Richard Peete, Jett Steiger, Traci Carlson, Rachel Ward, Lana Kim, Keith Marlin, Andrew Banks, Niraj Bhatia, Dan Burks, Ben Collins, William Hall, Cameron Lamb, Luke Piotrowski
Starring Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Cappuccino, Amy Hargreaves, Max Talisman, Sawyer Barth, Adea Lennox, Ethan Botwick, Philip H. Ashley, Anni Krueger, Justin Rose, Kortnee Simmons, Samantha Jones, Hayden Oliver, Dario Saraceno
A squabble proximal to bladed horseplay occasions the bloody manslaughter of a hyperactive, obnoxious teenager (Talisman) at the foible of a stainless steel katana, which is secreted near his body in the forest where he took his final running steps. Their friendship is uncoupled for an understood pact of secrecy, but the sorrow and stress sustained by one sensitive witness (Campbell) is alien to the unstable culprit (Tahan) whose pathology is unleashed by his crime and disaffection.
If you were born between ’77 and ’83, and raised in a small, sleepy town, you probably skipped school to play pranks and hang out, attended a party where supposedly everyone partook, and toed every other line that you knew you shouldn’t cross, unless you did. Maybe you read about it on the second or third page of the local weekly, or it happened three or four houses down — unless you saw it yourself. Anyone who was a middle-class adolescent in the ’90s will recognize themselves, friends, or acquaintances in Collins’s and Piotrowski’s verisimilous characters, whose edgy pretensions and bawdy badinage both bare and beshroud hormonal maelstroms of concupiscence, insecurity, resentment, and frustration. That zeitgeist eradiates crepuscular from their ethopoetic temperaments and treatment of their pivotal accident.
Directorial debuts seldom show such acumen for atmosphere or stylistic dash as inform Phillips’s every establishing landscape, fevered close-up, and solitary figure.
In silhouette and shadow, DP Eli Born beautified every frame with misty vividness and lifelike contrast rare to digital cinematography.
It’s conspicuous in consummation of interstitial and recollective montages comprising shots spanning split-seconds, but Ed Yonaitis’s edit also exactly rotates subjects to subtly stress suggestions spoken and silent.
Without the tired crutches of gaping maw or squirrelly sputter, goggling Campbell convincingly evinces his innocent’s conflict, sweat, and quiet adoration for a cute classmate (Cappuccino). He’s exceeded by Tahan, whose twitchy, seethingly petulant volatility uncannily incarnates emerging, monstrous madness with a wholly human face.
Panic and calamity are aurally amplified by Ben Frost’s pitched, minimalist tones, noise, and percussion.
Most of the first act is farced by hysterical confabulation between Campbell, Tahan, and Talisman. Conversely, Campbell’s and Cappuccino’s chemistry as inchoate sweethearts brightens the glow of their tender affections. Post-traumatic anxieties, guilt, and amatorial propensions symbolically immingle in surreal nightmares dreamt by the haunted schoolboy. Tahan fixates in his every shot as sarcastic delinquent, then furtive creep, as unsettling for his mercurial miens and perturbing peculiarities as for the unpredictability of a psychotic who’s excited to know what he’ll do.
Hargreaves would satisfy in her relaxed, warm-hearted part as Campbell’s single mom, but that she neither looks nor sounds like any Boomer who ever kept a nest.
Furnished by costume designer Stephani Lewis and set dressers Katie Lobel, Evan Schafer, and Joseph Visconti with an understatement as believable as its players, this townish crime drama succeeds as both a portrait of death’s psychological tolls and a household snapshot of the United States’ supremely luxurious sociocultural hangover.