Super Dark Times. Just three words forming a title that contains a surprising amount of insight into the film's content. Its adolescent casualness is a foreboding warning of the collision between youthful innocence and pure, life-changing evil — the two opposites that meld into one, fully formed, deliciously dark delight. Kevin Phillips' directorial debut is a coming-of-age-tale-with-a-twist; it is transgressive, unique, and has all the hallmarks of a horror cult classic waiting to happen.
Before exploring the reasons why #SuperDarkTimes can be a super hit, what are the ingredients of a cult movie? Ultimately, it exists outside of the mainstream, but becomes adored by a (relatively) small cross-section of fans. It must hold up to repeated viewings, be quotable, and provide an interesting slant on genre expectations. It doesn't necessarily relate to bad quality film enjoyed in irony (The Room — I'm looking at you).
Of all genres, #horror and comedy are perhaps primed the most for cult followings. Super Dark Times pulls off a masterstroke by creating a self-contained story with its own distinct identity, but one that plays with expectations of both of those genres in a way that will equally appall and thrill viewers. Anyone skipping the opening sequence would be forgiven for expecting a lighthearted comedy, thanks to sharp-tongued, zesty dialogue, remnant of Superbad.
When first introduced to high school buddies Zac (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan), the film sits comfortably in this safe, jovial setting, a setting enhanced by the backdrop of the '90s — in itself beautifully captured. There's more than enough quotability in the ensuing dialogue between the two, even more so when friends Daryl (Max Talisman) and Charlie (Sawyer Barth) join in the fun.
Such lighthearted moments come with a caveat, in the form of the aforementioned opening scene that has an impact on both a metaphorical and literal level. In much the way Super Dark Times shatters the typical tropes of a coming-of-age tale, the film begins with a rogue stag, breathless and dying, having smashed through the window of the kid's school. Disconcerting in its simplicity, it's a reminder that, no matter how things appear, darker times are looming.
Transgressive Nostalgia And Relatable Characters
When those dark times do arrive, in the form of a gruesome accident, Super Dark Times comes into its element, switching from Superbad joviality to the grisly depths of horror — both slasher and psychological — maintaining its identity without skipping a beat. It's the hallmark of great scriptwriting, strong characterization, and a defining factor in outperforming its peers. Dare I say it, it's the perfect film to "accidentally" introduce to non-horror fans... if you're that way inclined.
As previously mentioned, rewatch value is crucial to establish a cult following. Along with quotable dialogue, the early '90s setting of Super Dark Times prepackages it with a sense of nostalgia. For '90s kids, the allure of sentiment is too strong to turn down. From masturbation jokes directed at a certain scene in True Lies, to the exhilarating moment of being granted a "personal line" at home, these moments are plentiful, and used with purpose — it makes the characters relatable.
The young cast excel in their roles, despite being tested with dark material. Zac has an effortless, gawkish charm that makes him a likeable, worthy protagonist. His relationship with Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino, also impressive in her genre-subverting role) is sweet, understated, but mostly, authentic. Amy Hargreaves provides an assured performance, and a safe space from ongoing horror, as Zac's mother Karen. Charlie Tahan — whom you may notice from Netflix TV series Ozark — personifies teen angst in a way that is both chilling and captivating.
The Super Dark Ending Of 'Super Dark Times'
By caring for the characters, it renders the Super Dark Times ending all the more tense. It defies genre tropes over and over again, endlessly unpredictable, creative and surprisingly morbid in the way the story unfolds. Each of the characters deal with the magnitude of events in their own distinct way. A slasher movie this isn't. When danger arrives, the stakes are high, and no one is safe.
Above all else, Super Dark Times has a heart that emanates through even the most distressing and violent moments. The time setting is significant for viewers of a certain age, who may filter the film like a sentimental memory of school days gone by, empathizing as Phillips carefully navigates the highs, and extreme lows.
Those lows make it impossible not to reflect on how life could so easily be thrust into a new direction, by one wrong turn. However, by the time the credits roll, the message isn't of death and depravity; in a pleasant surprise, it's a message of hope, of how our early experiences don't define us, but instead shape who we become.
Super Dark Times is released on September 29.