Chekhov’s Sword

So my dad used to be the local merchant of death for deer.

He owned and operated an archery store for a short time when I was a young man about to round out my first decade as a living breathing human.

His short tenure as a weapons dealer coincided with and, honestly, was the sole catalyst for my brief time as a competitive archer.

I went hunting a few times. I hated it. I wasn’t born with the required bloodlust to appreciate waking up before dawn to sit in a tree in the freezing cold for a chance at shooting Bambi’s dad. I never even saw a deer and even if I had, I don’t think I had it in me to shoot it.

And I’m not bashing those that do. A lot of my close friends hunt. It just wasn’t my thing.

I did enjoy shooting at targets though. You could do it whenever you want and nothing had to die. It was a win/win for me.

Eventually, I found myself competing at theses competitions that would take up a whole Sunday for weeks at a time. I’m not a competitive person now and I never have been. My entire, short lived archery career was born out of being too young to stay home alone rather than a competitive spirit. I had to spend many days at my dad’s archery shop and all there was to do to pass time was shoot at targets with a bow and arrow.

Archery competitions were about 1 collective hour of shooting and 5 hours of sitting around. These competitions were about 90% adults and a small division of us youngsters. This meant a lot of down time for us kids while the adults shot their rounds.

Kids + Boredom + available weaponry = nothing good.

The other kids and I would sneak off and play this game.

I don’t remember if we had a name for it but lets call it “Bow and Arrow Chicken”.

THE RULES:

Form a tight circle around one of kid. The kid in the center of the circle takes a bow and a single arrow and shoots it straight up at a 90 degree angle. The object is to be the last kid to run away from the circle before Isaac Newtons’ 3rd Law of Motion takes effect and the arrow comes crashing back down to earth, arrowhead first.

(DISCLAIMER: Don’t do this)

This was one of the most idiotic things I have ever done and I did it often. And the weight of danger never crossed my mind until years later. At the time it was just something to do and it was fun.

Death wasn’t at the forefront of any of our minds. The closer the arrow came to hitting one of us, the more exciting and funny the game was.

But what if?

Losing just meant running from the circle first. And honestly, the game was flawed. No one can just shoot an automatic 90 degrees up. Most of the time the arrow got closer to hitting one of the running losers than it ever did the winner who stood their ground.

But what if one of us had really lost?

Super Dark Times (2017)

Coming of Age Film: a genre of film that focuses on the growth of a protagonist from youth to adulthood.

Sixteen Candles

Dazed and Confused

Boys N the Hood

The Breakfast Club

The Outsiders

Dead Poet’s Society

These are just a few of the universally beloved coming of age films.

If anything can be universally loved…

For example:

I’m not a fan of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s like an amalgamation of a little bit of a lot of great things with a deep dependency on 80’s nostalgia. The kid actors are wonderful. The young adult actors are obnoxious. The adult actors do their job.

Stranger Things is probably the most unoriginal of Netflix’s Originals.

“It’s a Goonies meets IT meets Poltergeist meets Firestarter homage to Steven Spielberg and Stephen King .”

Because that’s how we describe things, right?

We are 100 years into moving pictures cinema so that nothing is really holistically original anymore. All movies can be described as a marriage between two similar films with a dash of inspiration from this director or that writer.

That being said…

Super Dark Times is like Stranger Things meets Stand By Me directed by David Fincher.

It’s a coming of age movie but not in the typical “first love” or “perils of high school” sense. Those are long journey’s. Super Dark Times is a short ride. It’s an abrupt end to childhood and a thrust into darkness. It kicks you in the stomach and doesn’t really stop until the credits, and maybe even few days after that.

The movie opens up with an incredibly strange scene in which a buck seems to have crashed into a school window, mortally cutting itself all over, and dying in the cafeteria before two cops finally stomp on its neck to ends it suffering.

Yeah.

Maybe it’s foreshadowing themes of death and self-destruction, which are present in the movie, but who really knows. I don’t. It’s a scene in which context is meant for the audience to decide for themselves.

Super Dark Times is about two best friends, Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan), and two other friends of that lesser status than “best”, the reserved and quiet Charlie (Sawyer Barth) and the super obnoxious and loud Daryl (Max Talisman). They live typical lives for less-than-popular teenagers until a gruesome accident that leads to the death of one of them causes the remaining three to spiral into a world of violence, paranoia, and murder.

(WARNING! Minor Spoilers)

The movie is set in the mid 90’s but, unlike Stranger Things, you’d almost never know you were in a different decade if you didn’t notice the minor details and references. For instance, the first scene (well, the first after the super trippy dead deer scene) finds Josh and Zach spending their time, like many a teenage boy before iPhones, high speed internet, and Xbox’s, looking through their yearbook, talking about girls, and some teachers, and whether they’d do or not do them while the TV plays fuzzy, scrambled, softcore porn from a channel they obviously don’t pay for on the cable bill.

The time period is important. Technology is desperately trying to break through and is in the stages where only the wealthy teens were enjoying the luxuries of dial-up internet and PlayStations. The rest were just left to their own devices. Our protagonists are caught up in that simpler time of bikes being the main mode of transportation, daring your friends to eat weird things being entertainment and conversations about girls and comic books being hugely important.

You had to seek out your own fun and the most simple of things would suffice.

In Super Dark Times it is a samurai sword that will break the boredom.

The film does an incredible job at portraying the realities of how constantly tense being a teenager can be. You always feel the tenacity of heightened emotions of the teenagers becoming more tightly wound with each scene. It’s an age where you feel everything and struggle to communicate everything. You haven’t mastered your verbal filter and how to sift through your brain’s newfound hyper-awareness of the world around you at any given moment.

The first act plays on these moments well. We are introduced to a shared romantic interest in classmate Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) that creates a mild tension between lifelong friends Zach and Josh and the perpetual discomfort that comes with such a lose/lose scenario. We are also introduced to Daryl, a loud and uber-annoying friend that they put up with. I applaud the movie for breaking away from the cinematic constant that cast friend groups as a melting pot of cliques; the nerd, the jock, the stoner, the minority…etc… a group of friends you are not likely to ever encounter in real life. But rather Super Dark Times does a splendid job of creating a group of friends that are on equal footing, outcasts who are unpopular but unfazed by that fact. They are a kind of circle of friends you would find in a real high school today. And outcasts do not outcast people and so you never find yourself wondering why Daryl is included in their circle, despite is unflattering nature.

But tension can only last so long. Eventually a snap, a rupture will occur. Those heightened teenage emotions spiral into a violent sort-of After School Special involving harsh words, marijuana, and a samurai sword accidentally plunged into the neck of Daryl.

Again, what if an arrow had plunged into the neck of myself or of my archery cohorts?

Super Dark Times is a movie about different reactions to one tragic event.

In the aftermath and cover up of the accidental death of their friend Daryl, our 3 remaining teens are thrown into a world where innocence can no longer exist and how each copes.

One simply disappears into the background.

One is consumed with paranoia that fuels his sleep with nightmares that take the movie to the border of being a supernatural horror.

And the other gets a taste for blood and finds that murder could be a means to an end of their teenage problems.

In case the title doens’t give it away, Super Dark Times is a dark movie.

It’s setting in the mid-90’s is perfect, whether intentionally or not, because it’s pre-Columbine shooting. It’s almost a movie about Columbine without having anything to do with it.

The Columbine school shooting was a defining moment for my generation. We collectively lost our grasp of innocence in a single day when we were sitting in middle school classrooms. In a sense, it was our very own personal 9/11. I remember being in 10th grade and watching the terrorist attacks of 9/11 unfold live on television, and watching with a minor numbness because I already knew that reality was that the kid sitting in the desk next to me was more of a danger to myself than Islamic extremists.

That isn’t meant to take away from the heaviness and tragedy of 9/11 but to add meaning and significance to the event that led to my own loss of innocence in the world.

Hollywood has, for the most part, steered clear of Columbine. I know why and, at the same time, don’t know why. The possible glorification and humanizing of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold is a big checkmark in the reasons to never make a movie about what happened in April of 1999 and you risk encouraging more school shootings.

Unfortunately, the lack of a Columbine film hasn’t stopped school shootings from becoming a normal and almost annual event in our country.

I’m not advocating for a Columbine movie. I’m just applauding Super Dark Times for making a movie about how easy violence can creep into the teenage subconscious and how events can shape us at that formative crossroads in our lives. It does such a wonderful job of representing the pressures of being a teenager and they haven’t gotten any easier with the coming of social media.

Super Dark Times doesn’t feature much in the way of adults. Zach’s mom is the only parent we see for any significant time. She’s a mom who is loose with the rules and seems to be Zach’s friends more than his mom. That is until Daryl goes missing and a local bully is found dead. She is a representation of that mom who left the doors unlocked and didn’t care where you were so long as you were home when the street lights came on UNTIL some event causes her to be more intentional. This breeds teenage angst. Actions are indeed louder than words and though our moms loved us all along, we resent parents who show up only when it seems too late. We wanted preventative measures, not reform in the wake of tragedy.

Maybe the most powerful image of the adult showing up too late, or maybe just in the nick of time, is in the films bloody, violent climax.

I won’t spoil it though.

There’s a lot to be taken away from this movie.

It’s a slow burn and it shows enough red flags leading up to it’s climaxes that it leaves you wondering if the monster was created or just was there all along.

Is it inevitable that violence is going to find its way into schools or the lives young teens?

Is it random and chaotic?

Can it be avoided with over caution and extreme measures?

I guess it’s like finding a dead deer in the cafeteria.

Who knows?

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