Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
Well, it didn’t take long to hit the first “oops, not really a horror film” of the month. While Super Dark Times definitely has its share of bloody and terrible things happening, it it’s far more of a thriller. That said, it is definitely the type of thriller that would appeal to horror fans. And maybe that’s enough to justify its presence here.
I was drawn to Super Dark Times by its pedigree. The screenwriters, Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, wrote The Night House, which we discussed on the podcast earlier this year. They also wrote the screenplay for the new Hellraiser reboot and the forthcoming adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s excellent novel A Head Full of Ghosts. The two clearly know and love the horror genre, which helps at least shape this film.
Super Dark Times is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Zach and Josh are teenagers living in a small town in Upstate New York. Their circle of acquaintances expands to include Charlie and his friend Daryll. While Charlie fits in with the group, Daryll is loud and obnoxious, with no filter and even less impulse control. Everyone probably knew a Daryll at some point in their teens.
While the group is hanging out at Josh’s house, Josh shows off a katana belonging to his older brother, who is currently serving in the military. Daryll is more interested in the bag of weed stowed in the brother’s room and tries to convince Josh to let him smoke some. When Josh refuses, Daryll steals it.
The boys head out to a local park to mess around with the sword. When Josh realises that Daryll has stolen his brother’s stash, the two tussle. Inevitably, Josh accidentally stabs Daryll in the neck. Daryll runs, but bleeds out as the others look on. Panicked, the boys decide to hide the body under a pile of leaves and throw the katana into a cave.
As time passes, rumours spread around school about Daryll’s disappearance. When Alison, who both Zach and Josh have a crush on, makes advances towards Zach, he finds himself too upset and guilt-ridden to connect with her. Meanwhile, Josh is acting in an increasingly suspicious manner. Zach’s paranoia and anxiety grows as another teen dies in an apparent accident. Is Josh behind this killing too? If so, what does that mean? And if Zach’s best friend is a murderer, what can he do about it?
Maybe it’s the 1990s small-town American setting or the dark, thoughtful tone, but I kept flashing back to River’s Edge, another tale of murder and disaffected youth. Thinking about it, however, Super Dark Times is almost its opposite. In River’s Edge, the horror comes from the casual acceptance of violent death by a group of emotionally stunted teens. Here, we see profound emotional reactions, although these also lead to violence and tragedy. Maybe there’s a conscious rejection here of the casual nihilism associated with Gen-X, or at least a portrayal of a very different kind of nihilism.
I was a little underwhelmed by Super Dark Times. It’ss an effective enough thriller, and certainly a well-made one, but it didn’t offer much I hadn’t seen before. The ideas that teenage boys can be terrible and that psychopaths might appear normal until you learn the truth aren’t exactly shocking.
Still, there is a lot to recommend about the film. It’s hard for those of us of a certain age to think of the 1990s as a period setting, but here we are. Super Dark Times captures the emptiness of mundane suburban life at the time, neatly avoiding nostalgia. It also portrays the awkwardness of teenage friendships and acquaintances painfully well. Even when they’re not murderous, the relationships between the adolescent characters are filled with the kinds of boasting, status games and outright bullshit that make them feel real.
Maybe Super Dark Times works better as a coming-of-age story than a thriller. While there is an almost Hitchcockian sense of paranoia throughout the film, as Zach’s suspicions grow, the film’s strength lies in the relationships between its well-observed teen characters. And while it may not be the best fit for those looking for another horror film to view this month, it does at least live up to the darkness promised by the title.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!