My Favorite Movies – Super Dark Times (2017)

14 Oct

By Tanner Smith


I first saw this film at a festival in Little Rock, Arkansas in May 2017. I didn’t know much about it, but I had free time and a free screening pass–so I went into the screening a little cold. I’m glad I did, because “Super Dark Times” is one of those chilling films that kept me on-edge throughout and still creeps me out upon repeated viewings.

It was also great that director Kevin Phillips was there to partake in a Q&A and discuss his vision of the film. (Afterwards, I got to shake hands with him in the theater lobby. Nice guy.) Even better is that the Indie Spirits nominated him for the Someone To Watch Award for the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards. I’ve watched this film many times over the past few years since its streaming release; I’ll gladly see what film this director will come up with next.

“Super Dark Times” is set in the mid-1990s, as evidenced by televised Clinton speeches, a mention of renting “True Lies” on videotape, and one gang of passive-aggressive jerkass teens and another group of ’90s teens hanging out together outside instead of staying inside and playing on their mobile devices. The latter group of teens are our main focuses (bullied by the former, who mostly smoke weed and are less ambitious than the others)–there’s Zach (Owen Campbell), the shy, awkward type; Josh (Charlie Tahan), Zach’s angry best friend; Charlie (Sawyer Barth), the younger kid who wants to fit in with the older boys; and most detestable, Daryl (Max Talisman), the loud, obnoxious friend that nobody likes because he never shuts up. The early scenes of the film are a highlight, as Zach and Josh spend their time chatting about the girls they like, riding their bikes through the neighborhood, and hanging out with Daryl and Charlie, even buying strange snacks at the gas station just to see how they taste. (I have to wonder what the “dried squid” they eat truly tastes like.)

These boys are basically Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman from “South Park”…except (and here’s where spoilers begin) Kenny isn’t the one who dies here; Cartman is.

Yep–Daryl dies tragically and horribly nearly a half-hour into the film, as the boys were playing with a katana sword belonging to Josh’s older brother (who is now in the Marines) and Daryl’s big mouth and aggressive behavior leads to an intense argument which results in Daryl’s accidental (and gruesome) death.

The scene is terrifying and brilliantly acted by the young principals. (Everyone’s panicked screaming is both convincing and haunting, but Charlie’s repeated exclamation of “WHAT DID YOU DO!!!” will always stay with me.) The world each of these boys live in has just been altered into something, well, “super dark,” and now they have to deal with it. Too scared to go to the police about the situation, they decide to bury Daryl’s body in the woods and leave it alone. (Side-note: Charlie, if we’re to see him as the film’s “Kenny,” actually stays out of things and avoids Josh and Zach so he doesn’t have to worry about anything–that’s a little funny to me.)

What follows that very night is one of the best scenes of the film, as Zach comes home to find his crush Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) waiting for him after his loving single mother (Amy Hargreaves) invited her in. This couldn’t come at a worse time for him as he’s clearly going through PTSD and just isn’t in the mood to take Allison’s advances as she seduces him in his own bedroom. Poor kid.

Btw, there is a film theory floating around online that Allison, who comes off as kind and sweet, knows about the death and cover-up and is also responsible for everything else that happens later in the film, like a manipulative puppet-master. Interesting theory, especially if she knows that both Zach and his best friend (Josh) have crushes on her and that helps elevate the tension later, but…I don’t buy it. Obvious joke is she’s not THAT kinda high-school-mean-girl.

Josh stays home from school the next day, gets into trouble when he goes back to school later, and doesn’t stay in contact with Zach, who takes it upon himself to make sure nothing about them seems suspicious as Daryl’s disappearance becomes news (though, very few classmates care about him being gone). Zach doesn’t have to worry about Charlie, who breaks himself off from Zach (“If anyone asks, we’re not friends”)–but Josh? Maybe a little bit.

Zach is having a tough time dealing with this himself, suffering from surreal and horrifying nightmares about the incident. These sequences are very “Donnie Darko” in execution, meaning very strange and memorable. (No wonder the trailer described the film as a mix of “Donnie Darko” and “Mean Creek.”) One is a result of taking Nyquil before bed; the other…well…I’ll just say it’s embarrassing to have it happen in class.

But back to Josh. Something inside of him snaps. It may have happened the day of the incident, but it was building up before then, as evidenced by his apparent anger towards the bullies in an earlier scene–it seems clear (to me, anyway) that whether Daryl’s death was an accident or not, Josh is now letting that anger take him over, causing him to go on an unassuming killing spree. And because Zach and Josh aren’t as close as they were (and because Zach is our key focus throughout the film), the mystery of Josh grows more disconcerting and dangerous, leading Zach (and us) to fear for other people’s lives.

The climax of “Super Dark Times” is deeply disturbing and chilling, as Zach races against time to get to Josh’s new victims before it’s too late, and former best friends Zach and Josh must confront each other. The film ends shortly after that, leaving Zach’s fate ambiguous–Allison bears the scars of the event, Josh gets arrested, and maybe even Charlie, who wanted to keep out of things the whole time, will be investigated, but what about Zach? I don’t know…but it’s interesting to think about.

And thus ends a deeply disturbing and “super dark” thriller/horror film that still, after many viewings, gets under my skin for all the right reasons. It’s not a dumb teen slasher film nor your typical psychological thriller–it works on many more different levels than that. On one level, it’s about how a romantic triangle can damage a friendship, especially when, on another level, the interests of one of the friends differ from the other’s (AND HOW!)–and on another level, it’s about how one behaves when things are at their bleakest.

One final thing I want to mention here is the performance of Charlie Tahan as Josh. He’s nothing short of brilliant, with a performance that has many levels all its own. Every time I watch this film, I always wonder what he might be thinking…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: