I am still REELING after watching Super Dark Times. I knew very little going in, allowing myself to be simply motivated by the hype and buzz surrounding it. Almost all of the best genre movies that come out have this wonderful aura and Super Dark Times is no different. IF you have seen the trailers or received a small dose of this buzz then you might know that it does indeed have that wonderful Stand By Me vibe, but even more so River’s Edge. And though most might think of It or Strange Things when they think of these kids, I am more reminded of the boys from South Park starring in a serious live adaptation dark thriller. NO JOKE.
It explores some very relatable coming-of-age teenage angst from a much darker place and how kids can totally process it and react to it in completely different ways: Ultimately they are all stripped of their childhood and thrust into realities of a cold harsh real world.
The best-of-friends main characters sort of embody the spirits of Stan and Kyle (South Park) as they get lost in the chaos of the story. And I really liked being in that chaos, I had no idea where it was all going. Instead I was just wondering what the next turn was going to be. I was so invested in the characters and their relationships that I was even left a little disappointed when certain opportunities were passed over or left unseen on the screen.
There was only one lacking area: The music. It’s incredibly minor and forgiveable, ESPECIALLY considering what kind of budget they would need to get the right songs. Because of this, I was left with a disoriented sense where most of the time I felt like it was the nineties but sometimes because of the music, It felt slightly more like the late eighties.
Having iconic nineties songs would have been just the right finishing touch to the incredible mosaic the had created in that time and place. I must say though that the Production Designer went to incredible lengths to make it feel like the nineties WITHOUT the helpful aid of the right music.
Besides the kids, the town itself is almost a main character. It invokes that serious nostalgia for growing up and is partially responsible for the same feelings I felt watching Stand By Me, River’s Edge, as well as this weird realer-than-reel live action feeling of South Park’s small town Americana (if that makes any sort of sense).
Although there are a lot of different components working well here, none are more effective, or galvanized by the samurai sword. The moment we see this sword, we know foreboding doom is coming.
The metaphor of the sword itself is ASTOUNDING. The movie starts with these boys bullshitting with each other, they drool over girl’s pictures in the nineties version of Facebook: the YEAR book. They talk about jerking off to their choice scenes from VHS movies, and try to watch scrambled porn. They are growing up and discovering their sexualities. Eventually they stumble upon Josh’s “Cool” older brother’s room and his very REAL Samurai Sword. A very obvious (now) phallus symbol that represents their masculinity and what THEY PERCEIVE as adulthood as well as the sexual power they hope to impress on the opposite sex. It is a power they are not ready to hardness.
And when they try to wield this power to amuse themselves, they encounter TRAGIC consequences. Daryl is accidently killed. After this accident, friends are divided and we are left watching the resulting dynamic contrast of the fall out. Everyone deals with it differently.
One boy, Zach (our Stan Marsh) cannot deal with the (much desired) attention he is receiving from his ultimate girl-next-door love, Allison. He finds himself incapable of reciprocating the deep feelings that they both very much have. He is not concerned or ready for the physicality that the attraction brings. But on some level he is still capable of intimacy despite the fact that he is still reeling from his experiences as he tries to reconcile what has happened.
Overall, Zach has remained intact going to be ok, eventually. The other boy, Charlie, who we spend the least amount of time with, seems like he too will be ok. He just wants to get on with his life and forget that the incident ever happened. We see how annoyed Charlie is every time Zach tries to bother him about what he wishes only to forget so he can keep playing the wonderfully Nineties computer game, Mine Sweep.
The same however, cannot be said for Josh (Kyle Broflovski) – Zach’s best friend. He has been forever altered by what has happened in a way that the other boys are not. His brain has been short-circuited and rewired differently. The violent accident initiated by the phallus sword seems to amplify Josh’s adolescent lust and mutate it into something irregular. The wires crossed seem to connect or confuse sexual lust and bloodlust into some sort of un-tangle-able knot. Josh doesn’t handle it well and chooses to satisfy the drive, influenced by raging hormones with terrifying gratification: His “maturing” sexuality is realized through that lust – mostly violent.
After the death of Daryl, Zach takes the sword and throws it away – Lady in the Lake style. Josh returns to retrieve it as he is not yet done learning how to “Masterbate” with his new phallus. First he practices on Daryl’s corpse, sticking it like a pig and hacking off fingers. Then it is implied that he murders a pot-headed peer who now hangs out with the cooler older kids. Josh expresses his disdain for this guy earlier on in the film before the inciting incident. Afterwards, it seems that Josh finds the means to express his hate for the guy through his now unbridled lust.
Most of Josh’s transformation and it’s effects are either not shown on the screen or implied in aftermath discovery. I would have loved to seen what the rough cut of this film looked like. It felt like a lot was left on the cutting room floor. This is not a bad thing, and the movie surely DIDN’T suffer for it AT ALL. But, I wonder what information is in there that the filmmakers chose to purposely left out. I especially felt this way with the ending as if I was craving an epilogue to the epilogue.
We do finally get to see what Josh has “turned” into after Zach rushes over to rescue Allison his girl-next-door love. Josh has taken the opportunity to once again “play” with his “sword” and when Zach arrives to begin a last ditch attempt at a batter of good vs. evil, I was left on the edge of my seat hoping beyond hope that the lovely Allison was still alive. The director brilliantly shows us that one is dead while the other is not, but we are unsure who is who.
During Josh and Zach’s ultimate confrontation, it becomes clear that Josh’s rewired brain has turned him against his best friend because Allison has feelings for Zach and not him. Although I wish the ending was more satisfying – giving us more information about about what happened to Zach and Zach and Allison’s relationship, I respect it’s crypticness.
What do the two marks on the back of Allison’s neck looking like a “=” represent? Does Josh fancy himself as some sort of Link and Allison the princess Zelda? Does he dwell on the irony from his padded cell that Zach ended up being the hero who rescued the princess instead of him? Is there anything left of Josh as he is swallowed by the darkness in the back of the cop car with Zach looking at the crazy surreality of all these events?
Super Dark Times has all the makings of a great film that leaves you with wonderful questions that capture your imagination along with the craving to watch it again through different eyes after knowing where it ends up. So drop what you are doing and go… SEE THIS MOVIE!!!