Super Dark Times begins in a classroom, where an eight-point buck lies bleeding out on the linoleum floor after jumping through a school window. It’s a gruesome accident—a tragic miscalculation of the boundary between civilization and the wild.
It’s hard to say whether this film is about an evil samurai sword, or teenage boys losing their innocence and reckoning with their own (potentially dangerous) masculinity, or the secrets we keep and the scars we try to hide. But it’s probably about all three, and specifically, how humans learn to navigate the blurred line between our civilized selves and our wild, unknown selves.
Director Kevin Phillips’s debut feature looks a lot like Stranger Things—set in the 1990s, there are gorgeous shots of Super Dark Times’ misfits riding their bikes around suburbia, but these coexist with stark, ominous images of long shadows and tall trees. Darkness lingers in every frame like a vulture waiting to swoop. Fun times grotesquely morph into horror in a matter of seconds: Four boys are playing with a sword in the woods, and then three boys are covering a body with crunchy autumn leaves.
Super Dark Times tracks the fallout from the vantage point of Zach (Owen Campbell). His best friend Josh (Charlie Tahan) was the samurai sword-wielder, but Zach is racked with guilt over the accidental death of Daryl (Max Talisman), especially as he becomes entangled in a romance with Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino). Zach’s paranoid nightmares make him question everything—the goodness of his friends, his grip on reality, and the darkness within himself.
Though the final sequence of events is oddly paced and difficult to follow, Phillips succeeds by using the language and logic of teenagers to tell this story. These kids are dealing with some horrible stuff, and watching them go through it left me numb.