Film Review: SUPER DARK TIMES (directed by Kevin Phillips / North American Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on April 20, 2017

in Film


It’s the case nearly every time that if at the beginning of a movie a mistake is made, even one that seems trivial and is in and of itself completely forgivable, as the film progresses bigger and bigger flaws will reveal themselves until the whole thing falls apart and you find yourself thinking: I knew it! So why the hell am I still watching this? An element that compels one to continue watching Super Dark Times, a mixed-genre indie about high school kids set in a gloomy suburb in the 1990s, is the young actors’ sympathetic portrayals. Especially memorable are the two leads, Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan, who play best friends Zach and Josh, as well as Max Talisman in the role of Daryl—an embarrassingly frantic fat goofball with a nasty streak.

Director Kevin Phillips does an admirable job guiding his performers and creating an organic landscape for them to inhabit. His unornamented, straightforward direction is solid and the atmosphere and tension he creates elevate the script. To put this another way, with a less capable skipper and less charismatic actors Super Dark Times would have probably been unwatchable.

Zach and Josh hang out, go to school, they talk about girls, get bullied by older losers, argue about who is more lonely the Silver Surfer or the Punisher. This last bit feels more suited to younger kids but to their credit co-screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski manage to come up with teen male banter that is believable enough; their grasp of teen females is more tenuous. One day the two friends are hanging out with Daryl and Charlie (well played by Sawyer Barth), when they go to a field to slash milk cartons with a samurai sword. Tragedy ensues and Mr. Phillips keeps the suspense ratcheted up. But very quickly the writers seem to run out of ideas. They pad the script with a couple of dream sequences and a few little pedestrian scenes that add little. And then—maybe after realizing they’re incapable of articulating their notions about teenagers dramatically—they completely change genres and the story takes a ludicrous turn.

Oh, so the tiny mistake: A window in  a high school is broken. A classroom is in shambles. What could have caused this? we wonder as the film begins. Then we see it: A massive black antlered animal. It’s lying on the classroom floor bleeding, dying. The teachers are at a loss. Then two policemen arrive and evacuate the room; they’re going to have to put the thing out of its misery. So one cop holds the beast’s antlers and gives his partner the go-ahead, at which point the partner stomps the thousand-pound creature in the head with his boot. Once. Twice. The cop holding the antlers looks up—it’s dead. Now, I don’t know, I haven’t done the research. Maybe in Michigan (where I believe the film takes place) it was policy for policemen to stomp mortally wounded cervines to death with their feet. To me it seems kind of risky and inefficient. More importantly, cinematically it feels forced.

Super Dark Times
Higher Content (US)
in association with Lila 9th Productions, Neighborhood Watch, Om Films
USA | 2017 | Color | 100 min.
North American premiere at Tribeca Film Festival
for screening times, visit Tribeca
for more info, visit Super Dark Times


C April 21, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Where did you get the idea this film takes place in Michigan?

Dmitry Zvonkov April 22, 2017 at 10:42 am

At first I thought it was probably somewhere in the Northeast. But then a character mentions a 616 area code which is in Michigan. Where does it take place?

C April 22, 2017 at 5:51 pm

There aren’t any area codes in the film. Local calls only require 7 digits, especially before 2000. The New York license plates may have been a bigger clue.

Dmitry Zvonkov April 24, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Thank you for the clarification.

Jason Rohrer April 26, 2017 at 2:50 pm

If you’re not paying attention to the license plates, how can you say you saw the movie? I mean, I assume there are cars in this movie. Every car pretty much has a license plate, and apparently you didn’t look at any of them. What were you looking at? What else is there?

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