Super Dark Times (2017), dir. Kevin Phillips, starring Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan and Elizabeth Cappuccino
A film titled ‘Super Dark Times’ is, of course, seemingly apt for the world we live in today (see: Trump, Brexit, and Owen Wilson memes). But it is the timelessness of the themes, buttressed by rich cine-literacy, which makes Kevin Phillips’s directorial debut a must-watch.
Zach (Campbell) and Josh (Tahan) are middle-school best friends in the ‘90s. A screenplay composed, I daresay, of our most cringe-inducing memories, unflinchingly depicts their awkward elision from youth to maturity: there is the ‘would you, would you not’ game, as the boys lasciviously pore over the yearbook; while frequency of masturbation, and the sexiness of various family members and teachers, satisfy the conventions of the usual hormonal bildungsroman.
A terrible ‘accident’, though, involving a samurai katana, irrevocably tears through the boys’ lives and their friendship. The sword is the central, phallic motif of the movie; it embodies the fatal danger of a volatile masculinity, over which the boys – and those who encounter it, – have minimal control, and yet wield with naïve irreverence. Our concern, then, is for Allison (Cappuccino), who has a crush on, and is crushed on by, a shy Zach, who is impotent to act on his desire; Josh, however, is brash and adult in ways that Zach is not – and this juxtaposition drives the plot, at a slow, calculated pace, to its truly chilling finale.
While ‘Super Dark Times’ eschews plot convolution for a stripped-bare, raw look at teenage angst, it is dense with imagery that hearkens (quite explicitly) to its cinematic predecessors, including the likes of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, or ‘Stand by Me’. This cinematic fluency should entice any self-respecting film-lover; but, moreover, it is a film that tackles – in an original, unnerving fashion, – the noxious psyche of the frustrated male. It is, therefore, a film not just for our current, dark times, but one to explain, perhaps, what has got us here, and to where we are going.