We gave it a B+
Thirteen years before the Columbine High School massacre, Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge painted a chilling portrait of numb teenage ennui and the banality of baby-faced evil. It was a movie that disquieted its audience with the bracing realization that the kids — more of them than we’d probably like to admit — are definitely not alright.
First-time feature director Kevin Phillips’ Super Dark Times feels like a spirtual heir to that film. Set in a drab, wintry upstate New York suburb in the mid-1990s, this darkly original coming-of-age thriller revolves around two latchkey teenage best friends — Zach (The Americans’ Owen Campbell) and Josh (Ozark’s Charlie Tahan)—who have more thrill-seeking curiosity and idle time on their hands than common sense. Zach is a good kid with a single mom (Amy Hargreaves) and some semblance of a moral compass, while Josh comes off as emotionally stunted and a bit off. He’s got a thousand-yard stare and the sort of pent-up aggression that gives you the impression he likes picking the wings off flies. Tight since childhood, these two appear to be drifting apart — their mutual infatuation with a girl from school (Elizabeth Cappuccino) only seems destined to speed things up.
Then, one afternoon, the two are horsing around with an obnoxious classmate (Max Talisman). A tragic mishap involving Josh, some cutting insults, and a very cutting samurai sword spins their friendship into an out-of-control nightmare of guilt, paranoia, and an abrupt loss of innocence. Super Dark Times perfectly nails the minute details of adolescence—a minefield of confusion about right and wrong that leads to all kinds of impulsive bad decisions. And the first half of the film has a masterful air of unpredictability and white-knuckle tension. But in the homestretch, Phillips and his screenwriters, Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, fall back on some less original teen-horror-movie tropes. Still, by then you’re too invested in these kids (for good or for ill) to complain. B+