"Dark Places" is an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's pleasurably twisted novel published before "Gone Girl," yet it feels like something rushed and imitative of the writer's blackly comic sensibility.
Charlize Theron plays a cynical wreck named Libby Day, who at 7 survived the brutal massacre of her sisters and mother (in flashbacks, Christina Hendricks). For 30 years she has coasted on the dwindling financial goodwill of strangers.
When true-crime fanatics called the Kill Club (led by Nicholas Hoult) enlists her to exonerate Libby's brother Ben, convicted as a teen (and played by Corey Stoll in the present-day prison scenes), she begins doubting her long-held version of that night. It's a premise that proved catnip for Flynn's brand of not-what-it-seems plotting, interior monologue and jabs at our murder-mad media world.
But in writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner's hands, it's a convoluted, airless procedural that generates practically no suspense and little that's thematically resonant about lost souls and poisoned memories. It plays instead like the movie edit of a miniseries, grasping for coherence, with exposition-spitting actors relegated to surface venality, machine-like momentum and flashbacks that in some cases — involving young Ben and an edgy girlfriend (Chloe Grace Moretz) — aren't flashbacks given that Libby couldn't have seen them.
Theron is allowed a few charged moments, but on the whole "Dark Places" is strictly low-wattage.
MPAA rating: R for disturbing violence, language, drug use, sexual content.
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
Playing: ArcLight Hollywood; MGN Five Star, Glendale; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena. Also on VOD.