A lot of my friends ask me at times as to why I go out of my way to see independent filmmaking? The honest answer is that the probability of those films being exceptional is more likely to happen as compared to that of the mainstream filmmaking, better known as blockbusters. My other answer is that independent filmmaking has more creative freedom to make something similar to what we’ve seen before and take it to new places that have never been seen before. Kevin Phillips “Super Dark Times” does just that. The narrative itself centers around that of two teenage boys that are best friends in what seems to be a small town of sorts in the setting of the late 1990’s. These boys surround each other at all times, and when one gruesome accident happens and leads to them covering up a horrific scene, these boys then get launched into a psychological thriller of escalating paranoia and violence. This film feels such like an authentic essence of the time that it depicts as every scene felt like deja vu for me as the small details to capture that of the decade the film takes place in are exceptional. “Super Dark Times” is a remarkable addition to the teen angst genre because it applies real-life horrors to that idea and creates this immensely investing screenplay that seeps through the screen as the visuals are nothing short of beautiful.
“Super Dark Times” biggest strength is easily the screenplay. Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski work together to create an intricately designed screenplay that begins ever so simply with that of two boys hanging out and talking about girls. The actions of each character feel earned and slowly move towards that of something that is nothing short of compelling. The opening scene is shot with that of slow moving wide shot through the forest to that of a broken school window. The music is absent as the only sound in the background is that of nature providing the score to this scene. The camera tilts around the school as if the director is carrying us through his slow, methodical approach to a horrific scene. Blood is splattered throughout the hallways as the trail leads to that of the cafeteria where we find that of a battered and beaten deer that is reaching its final breath. The shot then cuts to what seems to be the beginning of school in which the local authorities are called down to put this deer out of his misery so that they can safely remove this large antlered animal from the school. This entire opening scene of beautiful still shots of this beautiful autumn forest and that of this deer inexplicably jumping through this window begins this film by fabricating this atmosphere of self-destruction that stays within the film for the rest of its one hundred minute runtime. A mood and atmosphere that tends to that of the essence of this town in which the boys are left alone to figure out their problems. The parents worry but never proceed to ask more of their children when mysteriously heinous crimes begin to take place. The children are left to fend for themselves and put faith in one another. This bleak atmosphere created by the screenwriters acts as an ironic cover up for that of the flaws within the screenplay. One of those flaws centers around that of the character of Charlie (Sawyer Barth), a young eighth-grade student who finds himself assisting in the cover-up of this grim crime. He’s also a particularly noticeable character as he begins to transition into a person that has moved on and forgotten about the crime he was a part of. He sounds far too mature and far too dark to be taken seriously, but the atmosphere of this film overtakes that kind of glaring character flaws as the paranoia surrounding our main character began to infect me as a viewer. Owen Campbell delivers one of the best performances of the year as the haunting reminiscence of the emotions attached to that unforgettable autumn day is both investing and effective in creating an exciting atmosphere that wraps you within its grasp. He is also the best written character in the entire screenplay as he is the only character that has multiple aspects that lead to him being one of the few kids within the story that you actually feel is morally good. His best friend, Josh (Charlie Tahan), is quite the opposite as he is dealing with the accident in a different method. He hides from the world and begins to seep into insanity as I infer that his upbringing was one of abuse and the hiding of many scars. I may be inferring too much, but the overall interaction of Josh (Charlie Tahan) with that of his parents and his household is particularly haunting. The mood that Charlie depicts in those scenes is vastly different to the emotions; he showcases when at Zach’s (Owen Campbell) house or when surrounded by that of likeminded friends. These two performances carry this film past that of satisfactory as both of these young men pull a sense of believability as they never feel inexplicably unreasonable. The actions they arrive to in the third act felt earned to me, but many are claiming that the overall atmosphere hides the flaws that the third act creates. For many, the third act is an explosion of emotion that doesn’t feel necessary or earned by that of the screenwriters. I feel a bit differently as the escalation of the paranoia felt by that of Zach (Owen Campbell) and the embracing of Josh’s (Charlie Tahan) inner darkness feels incredibly earned as the screenplay from the introduction of these characters paints them in a vastly different perspective. Josh (Charlie Tahan) is a kid troubled by that of a broken home as he is more comfortable in starting offensive things and has more violent tendencies than his counterpart. Zach (Owen Campbell) depicts that of a normal kid as his mother, Karen (Amy Hargreaves), is consistently worrying about him and showcasing his love and care. As I said earlier, I infer that Josh (Charlie Tahan) does not have the same home life, but he relies on that of Zach (Owen Campbell) to feel a glimpse of that motherly love that he has never felt or at least hasn’t felt in a long time. Once again, I may be placing my thoughts and opinions into the screenplay and may be carrying it to something that it isn’t. But, when pondering upon the moments and incidents that lead to this film’s horrifically mesmerizing third act, I can’t help but look back and make sense of everything leading to an ending warranting of these character’s intentions and methods. The direction as I said above is remarkable and showcases on focusing on the setting of this town and encapsulating these moments when these characters are at their worst and best. Kevin Phillips relies on that of close-ups of the eyes to create these emotions as he relies on the performances to carry this film. The cinematography by Eli Born is nothing short of exceptional as it feels hauntingly authentic from the ways he can not only capture that of the time, as I stated above. But, also how he sets up his shots to capture that of the raw emotion encapsulated by this bleakly investing atmosphere created by Ben Collins and his partner in crime, Luke Piotrowski.
“Super Dark Times” admittedly relies on atmosphere over storytelling, but not to the point of where it feels like it’s hiding its flaws from the viewer. For me, the narrative feels as if it builds upon itself correctly and asks that the viewer be able to connect the dots inferred by that of the scenery and the performances to craft a theory that connects the meaning of each character’s intentions and escalations of their emotions. For me, I found myself so invested in the characters and the screenplay that I found myself unfocused on the direction and cinematography because I was wrapped up in Zach’s (Owen Campbell) paranoia and his character’s opportunities of being unable to move on from his sins. If you noticed that my review focused almost entirely on the screenplay, this is why, because I was engulfed by this atmosphere that leads to me feeling that escalating paranoia as my investment in the characters continues to a build to the crescendo of the third act. I was lost within that of the world conceived by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski that is masterfully brought to life by that of Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, and Kevin Phillips. Each of them works together to help bring an atmosphere of bleakness and a town reigning with a haunting absence compassion that leads to a third act that is nothing short of terrifyingly unforgettable. “Super Dark Times” is simply depicting a small brief time of two boys losing themselves within that of paranoia in which one embraces that of acceptance and compassion for the other, while his counterpart begins to adopt the ideals of violence and darkness. Which side would you fall into? “Super Dark Times” attempts to ask that eerie question of the audience, a question that none of us want to be answered as we fear the darkness that might overcome us as it does in this mesmerizing story composed of this bleak and empty world. A world that is needs repairing, a world that entraps you in its atmosphere and never lets you go until it’s too late.