The best friendships formed while growing up are those crucial relationships that weather the storms of puberty, new social structures, and endure through accepting each other for who each truly is. But what happens when those bonds are frayed? Whether by the jealousies of new romances, changes in social hierarchies, or deep-seated secrets, these friendships can come undone and leave one trying to define his or her identity in the new paradigm. In Kevin Phillips’ debut feature film SUPER DARK TIMES, a friendship is pushed to the brink due to an unfortunate accident that has deep repercussions for an entire community. While the film builds up to some less than believable crescendos of violence, it all feels authentic due to the excellent work of Phillips, the cast, and writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. Their combined efforts keep the film grounded in a sense of realism that rings true to anyone who has been a suburban teen. The characters seem honest, which makes the friendships feel real, which makes the stakes engaging enough to bring the audience along for the movie’s crazy ride.
Zach (Owen Campbell) and Luke (Charlie Tahan) are the best of friends in their quiet suburb in the ’90s. They spend days fucking around on their bikes, enjoying bagel bites, ragging on classmates, and navigating the awkward cultural landscape of high school and the increasingly weird circumstances of teenage romance. When a horrific accident leads to an irrevocable event and shameful reaction, the ties that bind slowly become undone as they realize the ramifications of their actions. How long can they keep this secret? And what does this moment in their lives reveal about their true characters?
Phillips’ film is a beautiful examination of that weirdly fragile time in young males’ lives when they are stuck between their childish ways and the men they will soon become. It easily draws in audiences through its authenticity, feeling like viewers have time traveled back to a pre-cell phone (and pre-Columbine) era and are eavesdropping on natural dialogue between average suburbanite teens. SUPER DARK TIMES simply and effortlessly sets up the reality of this world in just a few scenes, using humor that seems improvised and childhood moments that are recognizable to firmly plant its feet on the ground. This allows the trauma and horror that unfolds to hit harder as it permeates the lives of all involved, leaking out beyond this central friendship to poison all relationships the two boys have with their world.
The period setting not only reflects the filmmakers’ own experiences, but also eschews the complications (and simple solutions) that the Internet and cell phones would involve occurring in a time when horrific acts of teenage violence seemed far fetched and the stuff of pearl clutching nightmares. It’s never a crutch or denoted by obvious song cues or pop culture signifiers that far too many movies use to convey the time. And, speaking as someone who was the same age as the characters at the same time, the film completely nails it. SUPER DARK TIMES also perfectly nails the confusing isolation that comes with that age which, even with heightened moments of violence and drama, still feels refreshingly accurate.
It’s always impressive when all cylinders are firing on a production—from direction, to writing, to acting, to cinematography and beyond. Every single element of SUPER DARK TIMES is perfectly executed and exquisitely realized on screen. It is funny, it is sad, it is insane, but most of all it is compelling. There have been few excellent snapshots of adolescence onscreen—STAND BY ME, NOW & THEN, and this year’s IT—but SUPER DARK TIMES can now stand proudly alongside them to be enjoyed by viewers for years to come.
— Rob Dean @neuroticmonkey