Super Dark Times Explained: A Grim Coming of Age Tale
While Super Dark Times may draw some resemblance to Stand by Me and other coming-of-age stories, the film indicates in the first scene that it’s going to take a dark turn. Directed by Kevin Phillips, the movie does focus on a group of four friends in the pre-internet age. Yes, they ride bikes and swoon over girls. But when an accidental murder occurs, the film takes a very different path and showcases how guilt affects the friends differently.
Super Dark Times Offers A Shocking Opening
Super Dark Times begins with a harrowing scene. A moose is found in the school cafeteria, barely breathing and bleeding. One of the cops on the scene stomps on its head and eventually kills it. Popular girl Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) witnesses the brutality with wide eyes and shock.
This opening is important for a few reasons. It indicates that this is not going to be a typical coming-of-age story. The bleak tone hints at darker turns to come. Further, it introduces the audience to Allison, the love interest of best friends Josh (Charlie Tahan) and Zach (Owen Campbell). This opening also serves as an emotional awakening of sorts for Allison, as she observes some of the world’s sheer ugliness and violence, looking on in horror, but helpless to stop it.
Super Dark Times spends adequate time fleshing out Josh and Zach’s friendship, and the film is all the better for it. In our first introduction to them, they hang out at Zach’s house, flipping through their yearbook, talking about classmates they’d like to sleep with, which is typical teenage boy behavior.
When they turn to Allison’s picture, it’s clear that Zach has actual feelings for her. He’s hesitant to judge her sexually and explains to his bestie that he hangs out with her and “actually likes her.” This marks an important difference between the two. Zach has a type of sensitivity that Josh lacks. Josh looks at all of the women, including Allison, in a purely sexual manner. He shows no emotional interest in them and is purely concerned with the physical and having his needs met.
What Happened to Josh’s Brother?
It’s clear that something major eats away at Josh. He’s irritable whenever anyone brings up his older brother, a marine who’s been gone for some time. When a bully mocks Josh about his brother, Josh charges at him. It’s also unclear when Josh’s brother will return from the service or how long he’s been gone.
Soon after, Josh allows Zach and two of their other friends, Daryl (Max Talisman) and Charlie (Sawyer Barth), to wander around his brother’s room. It’s evident that the brother hasn’t been home in some time. Clearly, Josh feels uncomfortable in the room and grows especially angry when the foul-mouthed Daryl inquires about the brother’s massive bag of pot.
All of this indicates that maybe the brother died, and Josh hasn’t fully processed it. He explodes whenever someone mentions his brother, and he can never give a definite answer on how long his brother has been gone and when he’ll return from his tour of duty. He also looks uncomfortable in his brother’s room, as if he hasn’t been in there in some time.
After exploring the brother’s room, the friends take one his swords and wander into the woods to slice and dice milk cartons. It’s revealed that Daryl stole the brother’s bag of pot, which causes Josh to erupt again and accidently stab Daryl with the sword.
The rest of the film deals with the ramifications of the accidental murder. The friends bury Daryl in the woods and hide his bookbag and bike. Yet, the murder haunts them in different ways, and the film brilliantly explores the ripple effects of their guilt.
Guilt and Its Ramifications
Charlie is the most minor character of the four, and he’d rather just wash his hands of the murder and forget that it ever happened. When Zach approaches him at school, trying to formulate a plan of action, Charlie pushes him away and tells him that they don’t know each other. Charlie processes what happened by pretending that it didn’t happen, as if ignoring it and acting like he doesn’t even know Josh and Zach will help them get away with murder. The best course of action is to act like nothing happened, according to Charlie.
Meanwhile, guilt plagues Zach. He has vivid nightmares. In one, Daryl sits on his chest, choking the life out of him. In another, he has sex with Allison in the woods where they buried Daryl’s body. The sword looms above them as Josh watches (not entirely unlike The Sword of Damocles). To add, his guilt has serious ramifications regarding his interactions with Allison, who likes him and tries to kiss him more than once. Yet, he can’t kiss her. He stumbles around her, and he frequently fails to make a move, even when she more than hints that she likes him too. He’s too emotionally wounded and guilt-ridden to have a normal social life or to make a move on the girl he adores.
Josh, meanwhile, stops going to school for a while and retreats within his house, for a period anyways. This changes when Zach encounters him at Allison’s birthday party and something about him seems off. For instance, he gifts her his brother’s bag of pot, even though he freaked when Daryl asked about buying it.
Super Dark Times offers A Super Dark Killer
The biggest narrative detour in Super Dark Times occurs when it’s revealed that Josh is a killer. Yet, his sudden outbursts of anger hint at this from the get-go, and it’s made clearer when John Whitcomb (Ethan Whitcomb) apparently jumped off a bridge but was more likely than not murdered by Josh. Whitcomb was seen early in the film hanging out with the bully who teased Josh about the brother. Even Zach harbors serious suspicions that Josh is responsible.
In the closing 20 minutes, Josh attacks Allison and her best friend, Megan (Adea Lennox) with the sword used to kill Daryl. He obviously went back to the scene of the crime. After murdering once, he has an increased bloodlust. It’s not totally clear why he targets the girls, but it could be because he’s jealous that Allison likes Zach. Earlier, he notices that she wrote her new number on Zach’s pink cast. Ultimately, this leads to a final confrontation between the best friends.
Allison’s Scars and The Ending
The film concludes with Allison, just as it began with her. She sits in class, as an unfamiliar student sits behind her, noticing the scars from the sword attack on her neck. This ending shows the physical and emotional scars that she’ll carry for the rest of her life and the story behind those scars, too. She can hide them by putting her hair down or reveal them and share her story with others.
It’s important to note that Zach is no longer seated behind her. Earlier in the film, we witness him staring at her from behind, the camera angle his gaze, as he stares at her neck and hair. This change indicates that he either moved away or changed schools. Regardless, it’s made clear that he and Allison won’t end up together. Josh, meanwhile, is jailed. The last time we see him, he sits in a cop car, his face shadowed, the lightning making him look more villainous.
Super Dark Times thwarts the coming-of-age narrative. Its opening hints at a grim narrative to come. More importantly, it shows how a murder and the subsequent guilt impact a core group of friends differently, resulting in a captivating story and a stellar character study.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his fiancé, or curling up on the couch and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.