If I were to just see the poster of teenage boys on bicycles and hear the title of Super Dark Times, I would likely write it off just as quickly, thinking it to be nothing more than a trite Stranger Things wannabe, catering to our nostalgia of your childhoods and of a different decade (in this case the 1990s).
I put it on one night anyway, as the description sounded like it bore similarities to George Washington, and sounded to carry themes of not only coming-of-age but of an angst that only comes with confronting mortality at a young age.
And what I found from this directorial debut from cinematographer Kevin Phillips was something at least in the top 10 of 2017’s best. Super Dark Times captures the theme of maturity with a maturity of its own that grants its teenaged characters a tasteful mixture of the rationality of smart people and the irrationality of youth. Their ideas, when thought out, are capable of being cunning and intelligent; but they are very often capable of making terrible decisions as well, particularly in moments of panic.
Capturing a wintry suburbia in the 90s, in scenes oftentimes caught between afternoon and evening, Phillips flexes every opportunity to remind his viewers of his history as a cinematographer. He is possibly best known for Childish Gambino music videos, (i.e. “3005”), where he also proves himself to be something of a storyteller.
But I think just as much praise can be granted to the original story as written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. They weave together dialog both cimematic and naturalistic, and handle the major tonal shift of the inciting conflict with sheer grace, the kind of seamlessness that even jaded and seasoned filmgoers can become involved with, likely coming to the mercy of Phillips’ intricate and visibly inspired direction.
When four boys hanging out on a chilly Tuesday afternoon becomes unexpectedly and accidentally violent, they, in their undeveloped and panicked mental states, make questionable decisions. But stating this alone does not do Super Dark Times justice.
This film contains many smaller details and allusions whose meaning and relevance still puzzle me. Why would the protagonist’s cast be pink? Why were some nameless figures relevant for a single scene and nothing more? Why was there a little girl witnessing the film’s climax, and why was her presence limited to a single shot.
Obviously I haven’t the answers to these questions but what I can say is that I doubt they’re supposed to have what is considered a “hard” answer. As cliched as it may be for a movie review to make mention or comparison to Lynch, I do think cinema’s Surrealist, and the idea of externalizing people’s inner thoughts in ways and visual languages that aren’t always so familiar, is a relevant part of the conversation. Even if this director does nothing again, I will be likely to check every once in a while.
As someone who loves to analyze movies, with almost every critical decision in the writing or direction of each movie I see, I usually ask myself not only if I enjoyed it, but how someone else may have done it better. But Super Dark Times, absurd title aside manages to expand and stretch and breath to a multitude of places and got from a bildungsroman comedy to a psychological thriller to corners of horror one would never expect, all with the wave of an ironically outdated weapon.