Directed by: Mickey Keating.
Written by: Mickey Keating.
Starring: Lauren Ashley Carter (Darling), Brian Morvant (The Man), Sean Young (Madame), Larry Fessenden (Officer Maneretti), Helen Rogers (The New Girl), John Speredakos (Officer Clayton), Al-Nisa Petty (Miss Hill).
If you’re going to steal, than you should steal from the best. That is certainly the case with Mickey Keating’s Darling – which is a film that calls to mind films like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), among others. Those are three of the greatest films of all time, so stealing some tricks from them is a wise move on Keating’s part – and the fact that he does so effectively, and adds a few elements of his own, make his horror film Darling a memorable one. At a fleet 78 minute runtime, Darling harkens back to the “woman goes mad” subgenre of films, that Polanski and Bergman perfected in the 1960s (and also inspired last year’s Queen of Earth directed by Alex Ross Perry), and is effectively creepy, shockingly bloody and (mostly) satisfyingly ambiguous (perhaps a touch too ambiguous, but we’re splitting hairs here). The movie works, mostly because of the wonderful, monochrome black and white look of the film, and a terrific performance by Lauren Ashley Carter as the title character.
Like The Shining, the film opens with a job interview to become a caretaker. Madam (Sean Young) is interviewing Darling (Carter) for the house sitting position – and explains that many think the house is haunted – and the grisly fate of their last caretaker, relishing the story perhaps a little too much, as she watches closely for Darling’s reaction. Darling is a meek, quiet, wide-eyed (literally) young woman, who doesn’t seem to have any issues with her new job, or the house’s history. Things fly off the rails fairly quickly for her however once she’s alone in the house, when she starts to hear strange noises, and becomes fascinated with a room at the end of the hall, which remains locked. Madam calls, seemingly daily, for updates and more cryptic warnings – seemingly in control of everything, although perhaps Darling knows more than she’s letting on. As her mental state starts to deteriorate further, she meets The Man (Brian Morvant), and hatches a plot to get him back to the house. Is she getting revenge on him for past sins, or is she just insane? Is the house evil, or is Darling just going insane?
The film has a wonderful black and white look – all the better to re-create the feel of those 1960s movies that inspired it. For the most part, the film the same feel as those films, although occasionally (particularly at the “chapter headings” – Keating allows from some flashing effects (which is why the film has an epilepsy warning at the front), and some heavy metal music, as Darling’s mind continues to erode. The house is creepy, and seems out-of-date – it’s described as being the “oldest house in New York” – and there are suggestions that perhaps the movie is not set in 2016, although I don’t think it’s ever specified.
The key performance in the movie is by Lauren Ashley Carter – an actress I have apparently seen before, but did not remember (I actually looked up my review of Lucky McKee’s The Woman from 2011, where Carter played the teenage daughter – and while I didn’t like that movie, I did praise her performance in it). Her performance here is tricky – she is often by herself in the house, and she doesn’t talk to herself, plus a decision was clearly made for her to keep herself more in control, without resorting to hysterics. So, she has to convey her ever worsening mental state subtly for the most part (there are a few times she overdoes it – but even they work). The film will, eventually, turn bloody and violent, and the film does end where it has been hinting it will from the first scene – but Keating and company never fully reveal their secrets. It holds quite a bit – perhaps a little bit too much really – back from the audience, who is left unsettled and spooked – more than we otherwise would if the film explained everything.
Darling is a very good horror movie – but it’s one for a specific type of horror film fan. This isn’t an edge of your seat film, full of blood and guts from the beginning, and jump scares throughout. It’s a more thoughtful film than that – and for me all the more effective because of it. No, it isn’t as good as the film that influenced it – then again, as mentioned, Repulsion, Persona and The Shining are three of the greatest films ever made, so that’s not really a realistic standard to hold this movie to. What it is a wonderfully effective, genuinely unsettling indie horror film that generates more scares and unease than most Hollywood horror films.