Super Dark Times

A horror film above convention with a seminal look at how innocence can quickly turn feral.

They say the most effective horror films are not about what happens on screen but about what you don’t see happening. With the inclusion of a strong and foreboding sense of dread, mood is the other component that makes or breaks that effectiveness. Right from its opening scene, Super Dark Times is a just that – a highly effective horror-thriller with mood as thick as a blanket of silent but steadily creeping fog. It is also cleverly written and slyly presented in a way where what you see is just half the story.

The bait to lure us in is the premise that this is a coming-of-age film. While that is relatable to any adult watching this film, the scariest part is its rhetoric preface leading up to almost everything that is evil in the world today. Set in the early 1990s – a time before the modern day internet when teenagers would actually leave home to meet their friends, or use a brick-sized telephone to speak to them, or listen to a Sony Discman to shut out the rest of the world – Super Dark Times begins as a familiar story of adolescent teenage boys. Transitioning between the boys they were and the men they are becoming, the sense of carnal frustration and pent-up repression is hard to miss. They ride bikes, talk about movies, fantasise about girls, get into fights with other kids and everything typical of teenagers those days, until too much fooling around leads to a terrible accident.

What follows is the cover-up but also where the film launches itself into the bizarre psyche of a teen’s turbulent mind. Best friends Zach and Josh spiral out of control, experience an emotional disconnect, embrace solitude, struggle with guilt and grief, and all before we realise that both of them have a thing for Allison, a girl everyone seems to take for granted. During all this time, debut director Kevin Phillips examines how an unchecked act of juvenile folly can trigger unimaginable acts of cruelty. Keep in mind this film is set in an era prior to the infamous Columbine Massacre but during the onset of a social climate perceived in high school students suffering from boredom, insecurity, and a strong need for attention. Phillips not only brings this out as the film’s centripetal force that draws everything inward but also uses this to propel the story towards its inevitable and bloody conclusion.

While the conclusion can seem rushed or clichéd, the ending is actually brilliant when you really think about it. For instance, the twist in the story is so cleverly hidden that you may never even know you are watching a twist ending. Likewise, there are several other takeaways that can have viewers mulling over for days. In that vein of thought, Super Dark Days can be considered the next best thing after the seminal Donnie Darko. Is it scary? Not in the conventional sense of a horror film, but the subject matter is terrifyingly honest and always lurking beneath the surface. Yet you don’t always see it and perhaps some of it is left to imagination. But when you do, it’s like watching someone throwing a brick; only to have that brick hit you square in the face.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.