Los Angeles (AFP) – Three decades after “Stand by Me” cast its long shadow over coming-of-age storytelling, Stephen King’s influence continues to resonate with theater-goers and TV audiences.
Based on King’s novella “The Body,” Rob Reiner’s 1986 cult hit spawned its own genre, typically featuring a group of wise-cracking, cursing kids, often on bikes, facing up to teenage trauma in Anytown, USA.
Several Steven Spielberg movies fit the mold, as does J.J. Abrams’s “Super Eight,” but critics also point to small screen fare like the Duffer Brothers’ “Stranger Things” and the 1990 horror TV miniseries “It,” remade this year as a smash-hit theatrical film.
The latest example of the genre, indie movie “Super Hard Times,” is unlikely to reach anything like as wide an audience as “It,” but the critical plaudits are comparable.
Part coming-of-age fable, part brutal teen slasher, Kevin Phillips’s feature directorial debut is not itself based on a King novel, but owes a clear debt to its “kids on bikes” predecessors.
“The themes that were present in the script both enticed me and scared me,” Phillips said at a preview screening ahead of the film’s US release on Friday.
“It took me a while to truly come around to deciding this was the movie to make.”
– Blood-drenched violence –
The events take place in a pleasant but prosaic suburb in upstate New York, where Zach (Owen Campbell) and his intense, mop-haired friend Josh (Charlie Tahan) are negotiating young adulthood in the mid-1990s.
It is the era before social media and smartphones but teenagers have never needed the internet to find their kicks in first loves and experimenting with drugs.
The boys’ relationship changes suddenly and traumatically when Josh accidentally kills their overbearing companion Daryl (Max Talisman) with a samurai sword in a tussle fueled by an argument over cannabis.
They hide the body and Zach goes back to his everyday life, trying present a cool front but backing away from a budding relationship with high school crush Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino).
Josh, apparently traumatized by guilt, retreats to his bedroom at first — only to return suddenly to school and his social life, acting like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
But the nightmare of what has happened sets in motion an increasingly complex set of circumstances that spiral into dark paranoia and spectacular violence.
Phillips worked with cinematographer Eli Born to create something that “could harken back to films we loved growing up when we were kids in the 1990s,” he said.
– ‘Visceral and gripping’ –
Co-writer Ben Collins recalls how the idea for the movie came to him in his sleep.
“I don’t dream a lot or I don’t remember my dreams, but it was like I woke up and the fact that I even remembered it was striking,” he told the audience at the screening, part of the Downtown Los Angeles film festival.
“When I was taking a shower it was coming back, and it was basically just kids (messing) around with a samurai sword.”
Collins, whose dream featured Japanese children, assumed that he had been influenced by a real-life event in the news.
“In the dream the kid got decapitated, and I was like, ‘That sounds insane — let me make sure that didn’t really happen.’ I spent the day Googling it, and it didn’t happen,” he said.
He decided that if it wasn’t real, it was a compelling enough idea to pursue in film, although no one actually loses a head in “Super Dark Times.”
Critics have lavished the film with plaudits since its premiere in January at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, handing it an impressive approval rating of 86 percent on reviews collation website Rotten Tomatoes.
“Super Dark Times is that special kind of film that we as genre fans are always desperate to discover, the one that we fall in love with and show to all of our friends,” said Brad Miska, founder of horror genre website Bloody Disgusting.
“It’s essentially a new classic that will stand the test of time.”