Filmmakers looking for ways to distinguish their first feature film could learn from Kevin Phillips’s direction of “Super Dark Times.” His thoughtful investments in blocking and sound design communicate the interior conflict of his teenage leads, and elevate what could have been a generic slasher movie.
Set in 1995, four years before the massacre at Columbine High School, “Super Dark Times” is the story of lifelong best friends Zach and Josh, who are each navigating the treacherous waters of high school social standing. What unsupervised time they have is spent crashing on each other’s couches, playing video games, and identifying crushes from their yearbooks, and if Zach seems a little more handsome, a little more sociable, a little less nerdy than his friend, it’s the kind of difference in temperament that might have gone unacknowledged forever. But when Zach and Josh find themselves involved in a horrific accident that claims the life of a friend, the underlying tensions between the boys are stretched thin by guilt, panic and paranoia.
The performances from the film’s young cast members are uniformly excellent, including Owen Campbell as Zach and Charlie Tahan as Josh. But the direction from Mr. Phillips is what makes “Super Dark Times” unusual. In the movie’s scenes of violence, in particular, what we hear complicates what we see, as the impact of blunt physical trauma mixes with the film’s score to suggest the psychic magnitude of accidental violence. While another movie might have leaned harder on ripped-from-the-headlines prurience, “Super Dark Times” instead aims to become a more elusive pleasure — a simple story, well told.
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