For some teenagers, it’s a familiar scene: Your friend is playing with a knife, teasing you and your other friends jokingly, putting everyone on edge but simultaneously making them laugh. Hopefully, nothing happens but you can’t help wondering to yourself, what if something did? What if someone got hurt?
Super Dark Times , directed by USC School of Cinematic Arts alumnus Kevin Phillips, takes this all-too-common fear and turns it into a cinematic nightmare: a fully fleshed-out, worst case scenario played out on the big screen.
The film, which was released on Sept. 29, follows a group of teenage boys in the 1990s whose carelessness ends in tragedy. This tragedy, however, is not the end of the story — it’s only the beginning. The plot of Super Dark Times takes viewers down a rabbit hole of paranoia, anxiety and insanity, with an uncanny attention to detail.
As a teenager myself, I cannot recall a horror or thriller film that has made me feel as uncomfortable as Super Dark Times; the film’s premise and execution feel all too plausible and real. Despite drifting between startling realism and hallucinatory madness, the film feels organic.
In one scene, a main character drinks too much medicine before bed, only to dream about his dead friend sitting on top of him, then later wakes up with an incredible pain in his stomach. The film does an absolutely stellar job portraying the guilt, grief and paranoia that haunts these boys after their friend is killed.
Charlie Tahan, who plays one of the film’s main characters, steals the show with a thoroughly unsettling performance. He managed to seamlessly portray both teenage innocence and unsettling creepiness, at times teetering between awkwardness and full-on derangement. He’s the kid in school who has always been a little off but no one gave much thought to — no one could have predicted the capacity for evil within him.
If there is one criticism that can be made about the film, it’s the reasoning behind it. The film doesn’t seem to convey a true message, but rather comes across more as an intense fever dream of anxiety and violence. Despite its shortcoming, the film is never less than gripping throughout.
Super Dark Times is Phillips’ first feature-length film, making the masterful direction and cinematography all the more impressive. The film is filled with beautiful shots that are artful yet non-invasive and nostalgic yet haunting. Phillips is able to capture the mood of the story and the atmosphere of the town in such a way that lends another level of authenticity to the film. Composer Ben Frost’s score is anxious and chilling — a perfect complement to the tension that continuously builds as the plot begins to unravel.
Supported by a strong cast of young actors and actresses, and helmed by a gifted director with a clear creative vision for the story, Super Dark Times is an impressively authentic thriller film.