Guest Post: Dark Places: Another Hit for Flynn or a Flop?

Elizabeth Eckhart is rescuing me from my own bad blogging habits lately (blame the book, y’all…it’s always about the book–the one I’m finishing, the one I’m trying to write, or the one that’s beating me over the head to write it RIGHT NOW, even though I’m on deadline for something else).  Give her a warm Pots and Plots welcome as she discusses Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places!


Gillian Flynn, award-winning author of Gone Girl and Dark Places, has firmly established her right to be included within the rankings of today’s top psychological thriller writers. The film Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and released in theaters in 2014, was adapted from Flynn’s latest novel and received generally positive reviews both from critics and general audience viewers.


Following Gone Girl’s success, Flynn’s previous novel Dark Places has now also been adapted into a film premiering in theaters August 7th, 2015, and has been available on demand through DirecTV since June. Similar in tone, Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, alternately played by Sterling Jerins as the child Libby and Charlize Theron as the adult, a sole survivor of a killing spree that resulted in the deaths of her mother and two sisters on the rural farm they called home in 1985. Following the murders, 7 year old Libby identified her older brother as the killer and the crime as some sort of satanic ritual, resulting in her brother Ben, played by Corey Stoll, being sentenced to life in prison.


While the story is set in the present day, the story of the massacre and the aftermath is told in part through flashback sequences. As an adult, Libby still lives in the same area of rural Kansas, living off of donations received over the years and royalties from her ghost-written autobiography. Both psychologically and physically, it’s clear that Libby has not moved on or healed from the massacre she supposedly witnessed. Only her cynical outlook and very desperate need for money brings her around to the idea that she should consider the possibility that Ben is innocent, an idea presented to her by Lyle Wirth, played by Nicholas Hoult, and his group of amateur crime and cold case solvers, The Kill Club.


For the most part, it is agreed among viewers and fans that the movie is faithful to its source material, although falling prey to the lack of depth often found in adapting a lengthy and very detailed novel such as Dark Places into a film that will play for approximately two hours. Most commentators agree that the book is better, but that the movie does a decent job of portraying the story as told in the novel but is slightly lacking on some of the nuances that were more evident in print.


The general consensus is that the all-star cast will more than make up for the film failing to translate Midwestern malaise and atmosphere, and that Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Libby is spot-on with the character in the book, in spite of the fact that Theron looks nothing like the way Libby was described in the novel. Author Gillian Flynn herself has stated that she feels Theron was the perfect choice for Libby and that, although she was not involved in writing the screenplay, she is generally satisfied with how the movie turned out.


As a former journalist, Flynn is very aware of the role that media plays in public perception, for good or bad, a factor that she exploits in her novels and is prominent in the adaptation of Gone Girl, and now Dark Places as well. In both instances, public perception as developed and portrayed by the media is distorted at best and at worst, completely misleading. The female characters in her psychological thrillers are anything but helpless. As we saw in Gone Girl the female lead, portrayed by the media as the lovable “Amazing Amy,” is actually the psychotic killer who orchestrated her own disappearance and continued to use the media to further her own plans.


Without giving anything away for those who haven’t read the book or seen this film yet, Dark Places gives us a heroine who is initially seen as fairly weak and a victim. Where the investigation into the past takes her, however….that’s a journey you’ll have to take yourself with either the novel or film.


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