Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Tribeca ’17: Super Dark Times
least this violent high school tragedy cannot be cynically exploited by the personal
rights-encroaching nanny-state lobby. Perhaps there is a movement to ban
samurai swords, but it is hard to see it gaining much momentum, even with this
example of the accidental killing of a classmate. The incident emotionally and
psychologically devastates two life-long friends, leading to some very bad
things in Kevin Phillips’ Super Dark
Times, which screens
during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
and Josh have always been inseparable, even though they both carry a torch for
the same popular girl in their class. Sometimes they knock about with Charlie
and they will reluctantly allow Daryl, the annoying tubby kid, to tag along.
One day, Josh takes his enlisted brother’s samurai sword out into the woods to
slice up milk cartons with the other three lads. Unfortunately, Daryl is being
his usual grabby, pestering self, except maybe worse. One thing leads to
another and Josh inadvertently slices Daryl. Thoroughly freaked out and
panicky, the three survivors cover his body with brush and resolve to never
talk about it again.
course, living with this kind of corrosive secret takes a toll on their souls.
Zach manages to keep up appearances, but he is reeling inside. In contrast, Josh
seems to go numb, retreating into himself and recording extended absences from
class. When he returns, he seems cold and distant. Soon thereafter, a classmate
he is known to dislike dies under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter.
Subsequent events lead Zach to suspect his best bud may have developed a taste
this case, how Super Dark is
programmed has a direct bearing on whether we can recommend it. Phillips’ film
is a selection of the “midnight” section, which implies a certain level of
mayhem and attitude. Patrons come to midnight screenings expecting to “have fun”
with a film, but Super Dark is tonally
much more akin to a film like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. As a result, the regular midnight crew is likely to walk
out of it feeling depressed and sucker-punched.
really does Super Dark a disservice,
because it is in fact a film of some merit. It is a tough, honest film that
does not resort to cheap sentimentality or lazy takeaways. We cannot ascribe
the violence in the film to the influence of drugs or explicit video games. Nor
can we blame parental neglect. It is just a function of a sickness in the soul,
for which Josh apparently has a greater susceptibility.
Campbell and Charlie Tahan are both unremittingly intense as Zach and Josh.
However, it is some of the supporting turns that really breathe life into the
film. Elizabeth Cappuccino finds surprising depth and subtly in Allison, the “It
Girl,” while Amy Hargreaves adds further dimension and maturity to the
proceedings, as Zach’s “cool” but loving single mom Karen. Frankly, the fact
that she is so oblivious is rather disturbing, precisely because she seems to
be doing everything right.
Phillips deliberately keeps the proceedings dark
and dour, which certainly suits the film’s grim view of human nature. The genre
elements, such as they are, decidedly reflect an austerely naturalistic
aesthetic. That makes it a distinctive calling card for Phillips and his
ensemble, but not much of a midnight movie. Look, just because you like a film
doesn’t mean you should select it for your festival track. That’s why it’s
called programming. Regardless, mature audiences should consider checking it
out eventually. For now, it screens again tonight (4/21), tomorrow (4/22), and
Sunday (4/23), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Tribeca '17