A traumatic event takes place in the woods involving four high school students and a samurai sword. That’s the lynchpin for what happens in Super Dark Times, a spooky, sensitive, beautifully crafted film about how the awkward, shifting dynamics of high school friendships can feel like murder. Check out the exclusive trailer (above), which does an excellent job of conveying the atmosphere and tone of director Kevin Phillips’ assured debut feature.
“There was a time when the screenwriters [Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski] and I referred to the film’s genre as ‘nostalgia horror,’ but we moved away from that label,” Phillips tells EW, noting that the story is set in 1995 suburbia. “We were hoping to utilize ideas of nostalgia but dive a bit deeper and create a situation that audiences could relate to and hopefully be a bit hypnotized by.”
That relatability is certainly present in the film’s two lead performances by Owen Campbell (The Americans, Boardwalk Empire) and Charlie Tahan (Wayward Pines, Love is Strange) as two best friends whose bond is ripped apart. “It’s about that period when kids get thrown in that cruel soup of teenage life,” Campbell told EW after the movie’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. “If you strip away all the trauma of the film’s plot, it’s just simply about a guy seeing his best friend, who’s been close and safe with him their whole lives, suddenly stepping into a new different world.”
Phillips drew inspiration from more obvious sources like Stand By Me and Steven Spielberg, but also work by master filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Takashi Miike, and especially the late Jonathan Demme. “We had a Thanksgiving break during the shoot and a bunch of the crew celebrated in a cabin in upstate New York,” he recalls. “I woke up early Thanksgiving morning with my head still in the film and I watched Silence of the Lambs twice. When I called my mom to wish her Happy Thanksgiving, she asked what I was doing and I told her, ‘Just watching Silence of the Lambs.’” He begins to laugh. “She was like, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’”
The Demme comparison is certainly felt in some of the movie’s shot compositions, with the actors looking right into the camera while speaking to each other — an effective device favored by the Oscar-winning director.
But Super Dark Times stands on its own terms as a taut, haunting little thriller about growing up and growing apart. Its perceptive sense of melancholy will be acutely felt by audiences who catch the film’s rhythm.
Also starring Amy Hargreaves (13 Reasons Why), Max Talisman (Orange is the New Black), Elizabeth Cappuccino (Jessica Jones), and Sawyer Barth (Public Morals), Super Dark Times will open in theaters on Sept. 29 from film distributor The Orchard. Check out that exclusive trailer (above) and the official poster (below).