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Page to Screen: Dark Places

Updated on September 8, 2015
The Film Poster for Dark Places
The Film Poster for Dark Places | Source

The Film

Released in 2015, Dark Places is a murder-mystery film written and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. It largely follows the book with glossing over some pieces of the story but keeps the larger bits intact. It features a large cast, including Charlize Theron as the main protagonist Libby Day, Christina Hendricks as Libby's mother Patty, Corey Stoll as the son and brother, Nicholas Holt as Lyle Wirth, and Chloƫ Grace Moretz as young Diondra.

Interestingly enough, this film was released overseas in France at April 18th, 2015 and it was released in August 17th, 2015.

The Novel

Written by Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) in 2009, Dark Places is a mystery novel with all the trimmings that is typical of Flynn, starting off with a dark premise that steadily grows darker and even at the conclusion, while commonly being a 'happy' ending, is still relatively dark. Also, all characters are fairly dislikable, yet somehow it creates a gripping story that encourages the reader to go along. It follows numerous characters (largely through flashbacks) but the prominent character is Libby Day, a sole survivor of family massacre that's incarcerated her brother Ben. She's encouraged to revisit the crime to find out how she testified was truth and what really was at the heart of the situation.

The Book Cover for Dark Places
The Book Cover for Dark Places | Source

The Adaptation

The Angel of Debt
In the film, the Angel of Debt is very straight forward. They get paid, they come in, and they kill their employer, killing the sister who witnesses his presence. They become frustrated extremely quickly and leaves in anger. It's a small thing, but in the book his perspective is given. He does his work almost like charity while receiving a measure of payment. While he does become angry in the novel like he does in the book, it's because he has to kill the kid, not because the kid saw him (the movie portrays him as angry with the mother). He's remorseful and hates the idea of killing a child. The film gives him an angry and defiant edge that's not present in the original work.

The Venom of Diondra
Perhaps due to the time restraints in the film, the version of Diondra (in my opinion) that we receive is relatively tame. Sure, she convinces the father of unborn child to steal money from his mother, coerces him to mutilate the corpse of a cow in a Satanic ritual, murder his sister, and forces him to take the fall and keep silent about her involvement. Sure, this is really awful for a person to be, and it covers in large part what she does in the book as well.

However, her introduction in the book is slower but more insidious. You know that Ben likes her, but it's a mixed kind of love. She's absolutely terrible to him. She preys on him because he's naive and doesn't really understand relationships, has sex with him only to insult his performance after every encounter, and spends a long time insinuating he has sex with little girls because fo the Krissy Cates story. There doesn't seem to be much love in the character aside from torturing Ben and having him take care of her and her baby.

In the books, there's a build up to her later activities that you see in the film, where the film uses her more as a plot device, already pregnant and in the endgame of her character from the book.

Libby Day's Subtle Characteristics
One of the small things the film does exceedingly well is retain some of Libby Day's almost inconsequential quirks. The book focuses a bit on her kleptomania, always stealing small items from various people and places, such as when she steals the salt shaker early on or a tube of lipstick near the climax (or her mother's necklace in the film). Furthermore, while watching the film you come to realize that it's not that she really desires these items. She's a major pack rat. In her home, you get to witness hordes and hordes of miscellaneous items stacked about in her home. Both of these traits are often focused on in the book and while the film does little else than incorporate some of these things, less is more visually as there's no dialogue yet the full information is given to the viewer. This aspect here is how adaptations should be done.

Charlize Theron as Libby Day
Charlize Theron as Libby Day | Source

The Climax
One of Libby Day's understood talents in the book is her ability to call 'bullshit' on people lying to her. As she herself is a habitual liar, she's able to pick up on it pretty fast. She knew when Krissi Cates was lying, but knew her character and how she was unwilling to admit any truth aside from the lie she had perpetuated all her life. When she encounters Diandra and her daughter, she knows things are not right. When she goes to the bathroom though, she doesn't find her mother's necklace but instead steals a tube of lipstick. The pair at home however attacks her, forcing her to crawl out of the basement and into the woods to hunker down in a dirty hollow of a tree. The next day, she walks to a gas station and calls Lyle to pick her up.

The importance here is that her kleptomania for random, useless items turns out to be a piece of her resolution. When Diondra disappears and the pursuit is about to be given up, Libby confirms her story by giving the law enforcement the lip stick which carries Diondra's DNA which escalates the priority of the search. Everything else is pretty much taken directly from the book towards the end.

Closing Thoughts

As it is so closely comparable to Gillian Flynn's other work and adaptation, Gone Girl, it will undoubtable be measured against it. Both works focus heavily on crime-thriller mysteries with a variety of largely unlikeable characters (seriously, in Gone Girl it's more of who you dislike least to root for, if you can even root for anyone) with endings that aren't a simple salve that fixes everything.

All in all, Gone Girl is far more linear compared to Dark Places which benefits it. The novel of Dark Places requires multiple perspectives and characters to flesh out the story, something a single film may not have the ability to demonstrate. Gone Girl relies on only two perspectives and adapts this well. Dark Places loses a lot from its time-limited focus of characters, their place in the story, and how are transfered from page to screen. Dark Places is one of the books that's hard to adapt because so much is going on and suffers a little for it.

However, I still greatly enjoyed this work and like other adaptations (such as the Hunger Games series) it works best for those who already read the novel. Some first time viewers may find themselves losing some of the story and for good reason. Largely Gone Girl is far more accessible than this work, but it's not a terrible film at large.

Book vs. Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

See results

Further Reading

You can read more if you're interested in my thoughts about the Gone Girl adaptation, or read more Page to Screen adaptations in general if you click here.

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