Quite possibly the best film I think I’ve ever seen out of the Tribeca Film Festival is this year’s Super Dark Times, a coming-of-age psychological drama that marks the feature debut of independent cinematographer Kevin Phillips.
Penned by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (full disclosure; the writers of our V/H/S spinoff SiREN), Super Dark Times follows best friends Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) as they go through the everyday motions of being a teenager – playing video games, riding bikes and vying for the attention of the same girl, among other things. When hanging out in Josh’s brother’s room with two other boys, they come across a samurai sword as well as his weed, which turns into a debate of whether or not to smoke it. (Spoiler warning.) After putting the weed back where they found it, the four of them head into the woods on their bikes to cut some milk containers open with the sword. In the midst of their teenage mischief, they realize that Daryl (Max Talisman) stole the weed and is smoking it. Things escalate quickly as Josh, using the sword as defense, accidentally stabs Darlyn in the throat. In a panic, they cover everything up and leave his body in the woods.
Super Dark Times isn’t exactly a horror movie, being most comparable to the excellent Mean Creek, but it does also channel genre roots from the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Ginger Snaps, Lost Boys, and even The Craft. Yes, we’ve seen this before, only Collins and Piotrowski instead focus on how kids handle the trauma, as opposed to trying to hide it. Sure, there are conversations about covering up the accidental crime, but what makes this film so riveting as a viewer is that the writers apply Hitchcock’s “Bomb Theory” to the story; the audience experienced the horrors prior to having to watch these kids deal with bullies, parties, and girls, which makes going through these scenarios all the more uncomfortable. At no point does everything feel normal, because, well, these truly are some super dark times.
Speaking of…SHIT GETS REALLY DARK as Josh struggles to deal with what he’s done. Tahan’s outstanding performance is so very different than that of his predecessors; here, he’s a sympathetic victim of circumstance who believes in his fate and accepts it, which leads him down a path of destruction that will leave you shocked, stunned, and emotionally destroyed. Super Dark Times is tragedy in its purest of forms, removing the safety blanket from suburbia, tormenting the town with a morbid tale that will leave scars on each and every person who lives there. It’s an authentic, honest and emotional experience that could be this generation’s Mean Creek or Donnie Darko.
Being a cinematographer by trade, Phillips delivers an uncompromised and unrelenting film that’s as beautiful as it is bleak, filling each and every frame with something that’s either eye-catching or just straight up mesmerizing. Super Dark Times is that special kind of film that we as genre fans are always desperate to discover, the one that we fall in love with and show to all of our friends. It’s essentially a new classic that will stand the test of time.