Let’s just get the apples and oranges in a row here – in some ways, I’ve no idea what happened in this film. Aside from the violence, the paranoia, and the fury I feel about a parent leaving a bloody katana lying around a house that teenage boys have access to, I have no solid idea what to feel. So, friendly reader, we’re going to do our best together here to piece this puzzle together. And the goal: to explain Super Dark Times as a movie and as a unique entry in the horror genre.
This is a coming-of-age story that hinges on a violent and barbaric act which leaves trauma and pain at the core of three teenage boys (and possibly a teenage girl, but that’s tin hat theory explored below!). As a pre-Columbine school massacre (the total dead is three by the film’s conclusion) this film is harrowing and bleak, but masterfully done in an age where school shootings are the norm.
What is Super Dark Times About?
The plot is quite simple, even trite, but do not let that dissuade you from this film. Zack and Josh (more stereotypical American names a writer could not muster) are pretty standard high school kids. The film begins with them rating girls in a yearbook and ends with the possible attempted murder of the girl in the yearbook they both like, Allison. So far so normal, right?
The film proceeds from Zack and Josh hanging out in each other’s homes, riding bikes, and talking about normal teenage boy stuff with them meeting Daryl and Charlie.
Daryl is foul-mouthed, rude, and yet his vulnerabilities are clearly on display. Charlie is younger than the rest, attending middle-school, but seems close with Daryl. After a brief conversation the boys find themselves in Josh’s elder brother’s room. He’s off in the marines, and has conveniently left behind a katana blade and a bag of weed. Ka-ching!
Daryl steals the weed from Josh’s home and smokes a joint in front of the other boys while they are playing teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the katana and some water filled milk cartons. It’s from this point onwards that things go crazy. After a brief altercation about the stolen weed (more on that in a minute!) Josh escalates, or it’s an accident, or I have no clue, but what I do know is Daryl gets stabbed in the neck, Zach – ignoring all basic medial advice – pulls the blade out of Daryl’s neck and Daryl somehow stands up and runs off. He dies, obviously. And the boy’s choose never to speak about it again.
If you would like to read more about the themes before reading my analysis and hearing Super Dark Times explained in-depth below, you might read this interview with the director.
Super Dark Times Explained: What Does it All Mean?
See, this is where things go koo-koo. I don’t know how much theory to bring in to the article without overwhelming those of you reading it. So I’m going to choose my favourite and plow on with that. Believe me, you may have never heard of this film, but the people that have have theories. The best one, in my opinion, comes from Reddit user CLSosa who puts together a pretty convincing breakdown of why Allison (dun-dun-dun!) may have been more than just an innocent victim of Josh’s climatic psychotic breakdown.
At the film’s conclusion, Allison and her friend Meghan have been tied up in Meghan’s bedroom. Meghan is mortally wounded, and Allison appears – as you would expect of the murderer’s obsession – relatively free of injury (though some scars are shown at the end of the film). Zach, feeling responsible for his best friend’s decay into social barbarian and rival for Allison’s affections, tries to save the day as best a teenage boy with a fireplace scooper can do.
Let’s get back to Allison. Two things noticed by Redditors have completely changed how I view this film. The first is worth quoting at length as it transforms the final battle’s chronology. CLSosa writes:
Another little thing is Zach is in such a hurry to “save the day” when he’s searching for the sword at Josh’s house that he doesn’t realize when he spots her number on the caller ID that she actually called Josh, and not the other way around.
The director has made it clear in tweets that the pieces of the puzzle are there to be put together, and this one, ooohhh boy! The theory goes that, at a party Zack stayed at only briefly, Josh was quite happy to give Allison the weed he killed Daryl over as a gift. After Zack’s departure, Josh and Allison get to chatting, and maybe, maaayybbeee, Josh takes Allison on a wee walk to see the body of Daryl and impress her.
There is evidence for this. The first is that, when Zack goes back to the body, the sword is missing and the body has been tampered with. The second is that Phillips (the director) spends the opening sequences of the film showing the viewer Allison watching a deer being stamped to death by the cops in the cafeteria. To see that Allison actually phoned Josh to come over, rather than the other way around, is giving me HUGE All The Boy’s Love Mandy Lane-vibes.
The second question mark over Allison’s involvement is another theory offered by a Redditor (Team Reddit for this article!). Jeuneqilac noted that, when Allison is showering after the murder, there is no blood swirling down the drain. We all know the motif: girl survives horrible massacre, has a shower, blood swirls down the drain. Phillips has deliberately subverted this here and made “the water flowing down the drain entirely clear”. For a film that is so meticulous in what it shows, this can’t be a coincidence, can it?
Summing It Up
I’ve borrowed heavily from the amazing theories of some pretty clued up Redditor’s here to explain Super Dark Times as best I could. I encourage you to watch the film, return to this analysis and the linked articles, and then watch it again – I know I am going to.
The most frustrating thing about this film is that it denies any solid interpretation of who or who is not the main character. Some people like movies like that. Traditionally, the first few people we see on screen are the protagonists. Well, by that logic, the main character is Allison. But, then, the protagonist is also, often, who the viewer spends the most time with. Well, that would be Zack. But Zack isn’t party to much of what happens off screen, the arguable meat of the film. Allison may be, as posited above, but we don’t get to see it, only piece it together.
The strength of this film rests on that premise – the main character is clouded, ephemeral. We all think we know who it is, and often it’s ourselves. And I can’t think of a better metaphor for high school than believing you’re the main character in the story… just like everybody else.
Last Updated on July 24, 2023.