Is Dark Places another Gone Girl or an Adaptation Gone Wrong?
by Spencer Blohm
Award-winning author Gillian Flynn has now had two of novels adapted into feature length films, with Dark Places, based upon the novel of the same name, currently in theaters. Gone Girl, Flynn’s first adaptation directed by David Fincher, was an overnight success garnering positive reviews from both critics and audiences.
While the novel Dark Places has some of the same elements that made Gone Girl so popular, the film adaptation falls short of living up to its predecessor. The film lacks the key psychological insights and feel of Midwestern malaise that were integral to the story as told in the source material. General consensus is that the adaptation would have been better handled back in Fincher’s hands and with more direct input from Flynn, rather than actual director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, albeit with Flynn’s blessing.
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Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, played by Charlize Theron, who had witnessed the gruesome murders of her mother and sisters in their home 25 years prior. At the time 7-year old Libby testified, under pressure from lawyers and the media, that her older brother was the murderer resulting in 16-year old Ben being sentenced to life in prison.
As an adult, Libby, who has lived off of donations and book royalties from her so-called autobiography, finds that the money supply has dried up and she is broke. Still haunted by the murders and skeptical of anyone that says they believe Ben to be innocent, she is nonetheless willing to entertain a proposition from members of an amateur crime solving club who call themselves the Kill Club in exchange for some cash. But getting involved with this group forces her to revisit her painful past, and as she begins her own investigation into the murders, she realizes the truth is more twisted than anyone could’ve imagined.
From the beginning of the novel, we get a feel for the psychological state of the main character Libby Day. Right off the bat, in the first line of the novel (told in first person by Libby) we are told there is a “meanness” inside of her, a product of the Day blood, as she tells it. The novel builds on this theme as we navigate the thought process of the adult Libby and journey with her into her self-proclaimed “dark places,” a psychological journey that many feel is not portrayed satisfactorily in the film adaptation.
As a journalism alum, Gillian Flynn is very aware of how public perception can be shaped and influenced by both mass media and publishing firms, a fact that she exploits in both novels-turned-films. In both cases, strong female leads are portrayed as victims by the media swaying public opinion in their favor, but neither is found to be helpless or even all that innocent.
Both leads are also portrayed in published works as being more “virtuous” than they are in reality. In Gone Girl, the Amazing Amy books portray Amy as an ideal living a perfect life, when in reality, she is far from a victim and is actually the psychotic killer that orchestrates her own disappearances.
In Dark Places, the novel A Brand New Day is supposedly an autobiography meant to portray the adult Libby Day as inspirational and strong, having moved on from the tragedy. But in reality, Libby is far from moving on and even further from inspiring anyone, describing herself as a self-loathing and self-proclaimed depressed kleptomaniac.
High hopes were set for Dark Places, based on the overall success of Gone Girl including stellar box office reception, but the film was instead met with mixed reviews and poor box office numbers. Some have criticized the movie for lacking the elements of profundity and depth that captivated us so well in Gone Girl, while the casting of the movie has taken some hits, especially with Theron not looking like the Libby Day described in the book. But perhaps another reason why it failed at the box office is the lack of marketing for the movie. Thanks to a collaboration between A24 and DirecTV, the movie was released through VOD before its theater release on August 7th, so all the people who had already watched it didn’t bother going to the theater. And even those who may have been interested in the film probably never heard of it due to a lack of posters and tv commercials.
While the movie is still a decently entertaining watch regardless of having read the book or not, this is unfortunately one of those times where the general consensus that the book is better than the movie is true. Whether you wish to see the film for yourself and form your own opinion, I strongly urge you to first read the novel, if you haven’t already done so already - you won’t be disappointed.