In its opening scenes, the moody suspense picture “Super Dark Times” follows a couple of early ’90s suburbanite buds Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Than) as they hang out in a darkened den, taking turns ragging on their classmates while a TV nearby displays the abstract erotica of scrambled cable porn. Such a small moment, but so perfectly detailed: the world of teen boys captured in an instant.
It’s best not to know too much about the plot of “Super Dark Times.” Suffice to say that after 20 minutes of Zach and Josh goofing around their autumnal upstate New York neighborhood, something terrible happens. The boys decide to cover it up, and their creeping guilt sours their friendship.
For much of its running time, the first feature from director Kevin Phillips and screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski is a well-observed, well-acted character piece, considering how a tragic incident exposes the fragility of a childhood bond.
The movie then shifts gears in its final third, becoming more violent and shocking. Phillips, Collins, and Piotrowski handle the genre elements with aplomb, building dread slowly, without much distractingly flashy style.
What makes “Super Dark Times” one of the most exciting American filmmaking debuts in recent years is how well Phillips and company grasp both the intensity and ephemerality of adolescence. Beyond the grim secret Zach and Josh share, the film spends just as much time on their mutual attraction to a classmate, Allison (the winning Elizabeth Cappuccino), and their attempts to be “cool.”
The result may come off as a little too betwixt-and-between for some viewers: not quite a thriller, and too grim for a teen melodrama. “Super Dark Times” is something else. It’s about the angst and confusion that makes high school horrific.
‘Super Dark Times’
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Laemmle NoHo7, North Hollywood