Super Dark Times Owen Campbell Elizabeth Cappuccino reviewYear: 2017
Director(s): Kevin Phillips
Writer(s): Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski
Region of Origin: US

Rating: N/A
Color, 100 mins

Synopsis: Two best friends are challenged by a horrible secret. 

Moody and hypnotic, Kevin Phillips’ Super Dark Times lowers our defenses, bludgeons our soul and then watches as we squirm. On one hand, it’s an evolving rumination of lost innocence and friendship. On the other, a mystery that explores the darkest, most repressed parts of ourselves. From the bleak omen that opens the film to the dread that lines each scene, Phillips transcends influences to deliver something much more raw and mature. Whereas other adolescent stories of this kind (It, Stranger Things, Donnie Darko) transform their trauma into supernatural metaphor, this one offers no such escape. Instead, Phillips’ film dives headfirst into his characters’ scarred psyches, proving that the scariest monsters are the ones hiding deep within.

Everything centers around a harmless group of high school misfits, Zach (Owen Campbell), Josh (Charlie Tahan), Daryl (Max Talisman) and Charlie (Sawyer Barth). Together, these four outcasts are the boys next door, getting hung up on the nuances between their favorite comic book superheroes, watching scrambled porn, riding bikes around town and revealing secret crushes to one another. Fighting mundane suburbia one day, the group liberates a bag of weed and a samurai sword from Josh’s older brother’s room. After slashing milk cartons at a local park, however, a horrible accident quickly halts an idyllic day. Suddenly, the group is wracked with guilt and a secret that could destroy everything. At the heart of it all is Zach and Josh’s friendship, a rock solid bond brought to shambles as they both attempt to cope with a monumental trauma.

Though the film takes time to let its intentions known, the payoff is more than worth it. Starting off as a hang-out film, the plot gradually shifts into a thriller that keeps itself focused on character rather than contrivance. In many ways, this is a horror film, but one that stems from the scariest idea of all – what it’s like to lose a best friend. From such a grounded foundation, Phillips takes the natural dissonance of a pre-digital age, amplifying it through everyday turmoil and high-school drama. Natural grief and paranoia is then punctuated with surreal nightmare sequences, but with real world flesh and blood stakes. As the film builds up to its electrifying ending, we’re taken through a poignant chiller about youth, loyalty, first love and the split-second choices that shape the rest of our lives.

Super Dark Times Charlie Tahan reviewIn addition to Phillips’ deft command of the material, his ensemble shines, peeling back layers of their complex, understated characters. If there’s an anchor, it’s Owen Campbell’s Zach, who is the story’s heart and voice of reason. Campbell is an audience proxy and emotional liaison, taking us through his trauma, hopes, loves and dreams as he tries to keep his world from falling apart. He’s totally charming when he needs to be, and provides depth to a usually stock archetype. As his bestie, Josh, Charlie Tahan is another standout. The story’s central trauma arises directly from Josh, and Tahan perfectly brings ideas of isolation, depression and longing to the fore with minimal dialogue. A lot of themes live and die between these two, and they flesh out depth within intimate nuance. In addition, Max Talisman and Sawyer Barth round the crew out with realism, while Elizabeth Cappuccino adds warmth and inner strength as Allison.

Super Dark Times is a quiet powerhouse, one that understands the strength of restraint as it charts the struggle between good, evil, loyalty and betrayal. I realize I’m being really vague here, but Phillips’ film is the type that’s best felt, and a lot of its power comes from how unpredictably it’s revealed. There’s also a refreshing quality to how the story mostly avoids sensationalism, opting instead for emotional realism and angst. Still, for as dark and haunting as the film is, it does carry a tiny sliver of hope, a reminder that no matter how dark things get, life goes on, and that over time, some scars do heal.