Four young teenage boys hanging out near a woodlands, taking turns playing with a samurai sword, begin arguing over some misappropriated marijuana. Harsh words are exchanged, tempers flare and…well, let’s just say juvenile tempers, pot and a really big, very sharp sword don’t exactly add up to a happy ending for anyone.
The remaining three boys decide to cover up the accidental death. The rest of the story focuses on how each kid copes with their hasty decision.
One distances himself from the other two boys, preferring to forget. Another boy, wracked by guilt, becomes increasingly paranoid, convinced that the third surviving boy, once his close friend, but now sullen and brooding, has sinister plans in mind for certain classmates, including himself, perhaps.
When the guilt-wracked boy realizes the samurai sword’s been retrieved from the initial crime scene, and another classmate meets a suspicious demise, the brooding kid begins to look even scarier to the paranoid kid.
Reading through several reviews of this picture, I noticed each reviewer had the same gripe with the film. Namely that what started off as a keenly observed teen angst story “disappointingly” wandered into “Slasher” territory for its finale.
This gripe is what convinced me to check it out.
Look, I’m damn near fifty years old now. Teen angst movies haven’t resonated with me since the late Eighties. I figured the story’s venture into Slasher Land might elevate the proceedings to something more interesting to an old Horror fan like me.
Well…the picture held my interest, but, in spite of some nasty bits of slashing, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it turned into a Horror movie. Graphic violence aside, it’s a teen murder story centered on guilt, paranoia, and betrayal. If you’ve seen Bully (2001)…
…or Mean Creek (2004)…
…or River’s Edge (1986)…
…then Super Dark Times, though well-made on an aesthetic level, doesn’t cover much new ground in terms of its theme, characters or their behavior.
A few reviewers compared Super Dark Times to Stand By Me. The two films are similar in that they depict young teen boys being introduced to real world mortality, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Unlike the central characters in Super Dark Times, the kids in Stand By Me don’t actually kill anyone or attempt to cover it up, which is just one of the reasons, along with the humor in that 1986 film, that audiences were able to find those characters endearing.
The kids in Super Dark Times, on the other hand, are complicit in their classmate’s untimely accidental death and, as a result, wind up spiraling downward into self-loathing, paranoia, and viciousness. I didn’t find these kids endearing or remotely sympathetic. Similar to Bully and Mean Creek, it’s a rather bleak and nihilistic movie.
At least River’s Edge gave us moments of humor and a character, played by Keanu Reeves, who didn’t go along with that story’s killing or its botched cover-up. I could sympathize with that character and his dilemma, primarily because he ends up doing the right thing and refuses to protect a murderer through silence.
But, anyway, back to Super Dark Times. The picture’s cinematography is quite good. It was a breath of fresh air to see a first time director tell the story with nicely composed, well lit shots, as opposed to something handheld, sloppy and ugly. Some see ‘edgy’ when a filmmaker takes that chaotic visual approach, but all I see is laziness. It’s just one of the reasons I tend to avoid particular genres of indie film. Not enough visual artistry on display. At least this film avoided that pitfall.
Super Dark Times, presently available on Netflix, was worth the time it took to sit through, but it’s not something I’d watch twice. If anything, it made me feel like watching River’s Edge again for the umpteenth time.