Mickey Keating (2015 78 min, b&w, 1.66:1)
Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant
A lonely girl begins a violent descent into madness after taking a job as the caretaker of a mysterious Manhattan mansion.
and filled to the rafters with good ol’ malevolent evil,
it’s Grade-A F’n awesome!
Darling joins the ranks of It Follows, The Babadook, The Witch, and Goodnight Mommy
as an example of original, deeply atmospheric horror that has no need for cheap shocks or tired theatrics.
Armed with a pitch-black sense of humor, a confidently-executed nightmarish style,
and a dazzling turn from Lauren Ashley Carter,
the movie works its way into your psyche and gradually frays your nerves.
Those who experience the film through to it’s deeply chilling final scenes
will find themselves rewarded with one of the most unique and excellent horror films of 2016.
A new classic in the making.
Carter, her eyes widening to impossible degrees, delivers a powerful,
near-solo performance that firmly anchors the spooky proceedings.
Often staring directly into the camera like a malevolent Bambi,
she’s a hypnotic presence who is likely to inhabit your nightmares afterwards.
A shocking, hallucinatory and masterful film…,
it’s without a doubt, a powerful and hypnotic masterpiece of madness
and paranoia that will be quite the task to compete with.
Director Mickey Keating‘s latest, Darling, is a shrieking,
stylish throwback to classic creeping psychological horror.
Darling offers the viewer enough evidence for viewer to draw their own conclusions
without ever spoon feeding answers or feeling the compulsion to lay every mystery bare.
Deeply unsettling, with flashes of extreme violence,
Darling is a ghost story with no ghost, just Carter’s intense eyes, expressive face,
and an ominous white door at the end of a hallway.
It executes with such white-knuckle style, such confident abandon,
that it’s mesmerizing. Everyone involved in this thing gives it their fucking all,
and the result is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time
Keating’s film is lean, mean, and hauntingly on-edge.
Whenever it’s released in 2016,
you’ll want to make it a priority.
An indie horror knockout …
The year’s best indie horror movie so far that doesn’t feature a Satanic black goat…
Plunging into the viewer’s sense with bone-shaking atmospheric sounds and cohesively deranged editing…
Darling shatters any expectations and delivers an immersive experience of intimate horror
Keating’s black-and-white homage to famous descent-into-madness films,
particularly the oeuvre of Roman Polanski, inspired us to revisit other
mesmerizing movies about losing your goddamn mind
“The minimalist script and direction leave you mesmerized,
and Lauren Ashley Carter’s stellar performance simply can not be ignored.
Filled with gorgeous black and white cinematography,
disjointed and off-kilter soundtrack choices, whispering voices, shocking violence,
and subliminal edits (not to mention an ever growing sense of dread),
DARLING is the perfect fusion of arthouse and grind house…
the performance of lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter really hits this one home.
5 stars / 5
Famous Monsters of Filmland
DANIELXIII MARCH 24, 2016
I really, REALLY love when our beloved horror biz goes and gets itself all artsy and experimental. Give me a BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW over yet another tired 80s slasher throwback any damn day. Well, to that end, I have a real doozy of a flick in front of my eerie eyeballs today: a stylish lil’ number called DARLING.
DARLING starts out like a throwback to the Gothic thriller genre: a young, seemingly naïve woman comes to find herself as the caretaker of an aged grande manse (this one happens to be located in Manhattan), and of course, said estate just happens to be rumored to have a haunted past (in the form of the previous owner, a student of the occult who had tried to summon the devil). Well, before long the ol’ arcane abode starts messing with our heroine’s mind… a mind that may not need much of a push when it comes to being a bit off.
Now I admit, that die-scription above was e’en vaguer than my legendarily legendary vague summaries, but I really want you cats to check this one out. Because the easiest way to convince someone that they’ll love something is to make a comparison (and I’m all about takin’ the easy way out, as anyone that’s read one of my reviews can plainly see!), so here goes: DARLING is kinda like what would happen if Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick got together to die-rect a version of THE HAUNTING, but they only had a vague notion as to what that story is actually about. That’s a good starting point, but the actual film is so much more interesting than that!
Filled with gorgeous black and white cinematography, disjointed and off-kilter soundtrack choices, whispering voices, shocking violence, and subliminal edits (not to mention an ever growing sense of dread), DARLING is the perfect fusion of arthouse and grindhouse, and it works so much better than you would ever assume it would. And while the aesthetics are unique and stylish, the performance of lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter really hits this one home. Surrounded by only a handful of other characters (including a great cameo by Sean Young as the upper-class owner of the house), Carter carries the film. She is in nearly every frame of the film and offers up a performance that runs the gamut from doe-eyed waif to screaming nightmare with equal aplomb.
DARLING is truly one to savor — experimental, shocking, and filled to the rafters with good ol’ malevolent evil, it’s Grade-A F’n awesome!
The Aisle Seat
Mickey Keating’s Darling runs only 75 minutes, yet it’s got more genuine horror than most fright flicks that run longer. This is a dark, stunning work that creates psychological terror to match its most shocking moments of physical violence. Initial scenes employ some familiar horror elements, butDarling finds unique ways of utilizing them as it goes on. In other words, once you think you’ve got the picture figured out, it goes in a whole other direction, just to mess with you.
Lauren Ashley Carter (who was so good in The Woman and Jug Face) gives a superb performance as Darling, a shy young woman who gets a job house-sitting for an off-puttingly formal woman, identified only as Madame (Sean Young). The brownstone is a little creepy but otherwise normal, save for a door at the end of a hallway that Darling is admonished not to open. She doesn’t need to. Not long after taking the gig, she’s haunted by bloody, disturbing hallucinations. Her personality changes, especially after hooking up with a guy (Brian Morvant) at a local bar. The movie keeps you guessing as to whether Darling has been possessed, is simply suffering some sort of psychotic breakdown, or both. Either way, blood is shed.
Darling contains very little exposition. It opens with her taking the job, so there’s no explanation of who she is or how she comes to be employed by Madame. Neither is there any overt discussion of whatever sinister force may be in the house, aside from a brief mention that the previous caretaker jumped to her death, thereby creating the vacancy Darling fills. In most movies, this lack of backstory would be a detriment. Here, it adds to the eerieness. The absence of expository information causes us to lean in, to scan the frame for details. It also forces us to watch Darling with great scrutiny. Everything we need to know about her is right there in Lauren Ashley Carter’s face. We come to sense the character’s vulnerabilities and insecurities. We get inside her head in a way that wouldn’t be possible if the movie’s dialogue simply told us everything there was to know about her.
This is not a conventional horror film. Darling is not so much about what happens as it is about how things happen. Keating creates a very chilling mood that sucks you in, making the presence of evil virtually palpable. The movie is shot in stark, ominous black and white. Strobe lights and graphic, almost subliminal images are intercut with the main action at times when we do not expect them. Certain objects are photographed in shadow or out of focus to enhance their mystery. There is heavy manipulation of sound, with whispering voices and echoes on the soundtrack, as well as dramatic shifts from silence to noise. At one key point, Keating even uses an upside-down shot of New York City to suggest Darling’s world inverting.
Perhaps the most daring technique the movie employs is to have Darling look directly at the camera at certain points. She’s looking right at us, essentially suggesting that we, too, are possessed by whatever has its teeth in her, be it demon or mental health disorder. (Or, perhaps a demon preying on a mental health disorder.) More disturbingly, it might be a case where we are possessed by her. The darker Darling’s behavior gets, the more we can’t stop watching her. Does that make us complicit in her actions? One could totally interpret Darling as a metaphor for our inherent fascination with violence, with the horrible things people are capable of, and with evil itself.
Darling joins the ranks of It Follows, The Babadook, The Witch, and Goodnight Mommy as an example of original, deeply atmospheric horror that has no need for cheap shocks or tired theatrics. Armed with a pitch-black sense of humor, a confidently-executed nightmarish style, and a dazzling turn from Lauren Ashley Carter, the movie works its way into your psyche and gradually frays your nerves.
If you love horror, Darling is a film you should not miss under any circumstances.
( 1/2 out of four)
Horror Freak News
Martin Leggett March 29, 2016
Darling (2016) Review
Mickey Keating’s Darling is a uniquely troubling horror film. It’s stark black and white photography, choking atmosphere and an utterly spellbinding performance from Lauren Ashley Carter Darling is a startling and fascinating horror yarn.
Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter – The Woman, Jugface) has just been given the job of minding an historic old house in New York, New York. Madame, the owner (Sean Young – Blade Runner, Jugface) says that they have worked to try and rehabilitate the reputation of the building stories persist of hauntings and the terrible suicide of the previous caretaker. With that, she hurriedly leaves Darling alone by herself in this large house. Darling explores the house while making herself at home, finding she can enter every room except for one at the end of a narrow corridor. Things begin to become strange when Darling starts to put away her things in her room and finds an inverted crucifix on a chain.The next day Darling goes out to buy groceries and is stopped by a man who says she dropped something: the same cross. Darling’s utterly terrified reaction to seeing this man is a turning point. Darling starts down a path towards violence and hallucination where what’s real and what isn’t are irreparably blurred and the consequences horrifying.
This film begins with a warning about flashing lights but also “hallucinatory images” which sounds like a seizure warning deftly combined with a cheeky Alfred Hitchcock-like warning of what is in store for the viewer. What it doesn’t warn you about is the sensory overload of not just flashing lights but multiple layers of brilliant sound design, an unnervingly intimate shooting style and a deliberate intent to disorient the viewer. Shot in brilliant black and white Darling immediately stands out from its peers by evoking 60’s style and sensibilities including those of Hitchcock and Polanski. The stark photography gives the film a cold otherworldliness, exterior shots of New York city look imposing and unwelcoming. That the film also contains anachronisms throughout helps create the feel that this film is taking place in a world of its own. This along with other surreal touches such as in the sound design are David Lynch-inspired choices which result in a surreal feeling of being trapped in this young woman’s nightmare.
This movie wants you to squirm in your seat. Comfort will be the furthest thing from the viewers’ minds as Darling assaults the senses. Further enhancing the fear and discomfort is the flashing lights and incredibly fast cuts which brings to mind something like Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: the Iron Man. The sound design punctuates these cuts, sometimes with plucks of a violin other times with jarring and terrible sound. At one point we are even barraged with the cacophony of death metal. The soundtrack is constantly changing style, calming the atmosphere with pleasant music before again jarring us with discordant noise and startling visual cuts. Darling is relentless in its goal to keep the viewer off-balance, to disorient and terrify.
The center of this film and its biggest asset is Darling herself, played with incredible skill and energy by Lauren Ashley Carter. Carter has some tremendous performances under her belt already, this scribe was especially impressed by her in Jugface, but her performance here is on a whole other level. There are moments throughout the movie where Darling walks straight towards the camera or just stares directly into the lense, the stark photography rendering her huge eyes a deep black that drill their way into your brain and beneath your skin. Darling knows that we’re watching. We are complicit in what she experiences but we have no better grasp on what is happening than she does. We have to watch on as Lauren Ashley Carter runs a whole gamut of emotions and states of mind, from confusion and fear to focused rage, to intense anguish. Carter walks that line between being genuinely sympathetic as her ordeal continues but is also detached and terrifying. This small, unassuming young woman unravels before us in brutally devastating fashion. Comparisons could be made to Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan but even that cannot match the sheer intensity of what is felt here. This might very well be one of the most outstanding performances you will see all year.
Darling might not be for all tastes. It’s extremely small scale, singular style and it’s unsettling and surreal mystery is quite unlike the usual horror experience. However those who experience the film through to it’s deeply chilling final scenes will find themselves rewarded with one of the most unique and excellent horror films of 2016. A new classic in the making
The Hollywood Reporter
Frank Scheck 11/3/2015
Posted at the outset of Mickey Keating’s (Pod) horror film is the warning “This film contains flashing lights and hallucinatory images,” and it must be given credit for making good on its word. Featuring a tremendous performance by Lauren Ashley Carter as the newly hired caretaker of an old-world New York City mansion who goes bonkers (what, she never saw The Shining?), Darling is a stylishly audacious effort that, while it may be a bit too rarified for general horror fans, signals its director as a talent to watch. The film is being showcased in the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies series and is scheduled for a theatrical release via Screen Media Films early next year.
Actually, the film’s most obvious influence is not the Stephen King novel/Stanley Kubrick film but rather Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, with more than a touch of The Tenant thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, Darling‘s all too evident derivativeness feels less like homage than rip-off.
But as rip-offs go, it’s a well-done, memorable one. The film begins in deliciously tantalizing fashion when a young woman (Carter) is employed as a caretaker by the older “Madame” (Sean Young, always fun to see) who casually mentions that the last person who took the job jumped off the building’s balcony to her death.
Darling, as her employer calls her, is then left alone with far too much time on her hands as she wanders through the lavishly appointed environs and begins to crumble mentally. She becomes even more unhinged when she comes upon a room with a locked door that she cannot open. Eventually she decides to take a break from the apartment’s confines and stop by a local bar, where she meets a man (Brian Morvant) who eagerly accepts her offer to come home with her. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t work out well for him.
The scenario is simple to the extreme, but writer/director Keating provides enough stylistic flourishes to keep it interesting (the brief 75 minute running time doesn’t hurt). Divided into chapters with such headings as “Demon,” “Inferno” and “Thrills!!!,” the film is shot in starkly beautiful black & white with elegant camera compositions. The arresting sound design and discordant musical score further contribute to the ominous atmosphere.
Carter, her eyes widening to impossible degrees, delivers a powerful, near-solo performance that firmly anchors the spooky proceedings. Often staring directly into the camera like a malevolent Bambi, she’s a hypnotic presence who is likely to inhabit your nightmares afterwards.
Icons of Fright
Jerry Smith 3/11/2015
There’s a feeling that comes along once in a while, where you witness a film that just changes things. Those types of films, the ones that not only entertain you, but instantly leave you feeling like you’ve just sat through an absolute masterpiece of technique and style, of directing, acting and of form…they don’t come often. When they do happen, it’s a truly unique experience, and fright fanatics, lovers of film, and anyone else whose eyes might be reading this, let me tell you this with complete sincerity: Mickey Keating’s DARLING is just that type of film.
A shocking, hallucinatory and masterful film, DARLING doesn’t just happen in front of you, it pulls you into the story of a woman who takes on the job of looking after a mansion-like home that may or may not be haunted, and throws you into her complete descent into absolute madness. An homage to all things Polanksi, with equal parts REPULSION and THE TENANT, Keating’s film gives you the title character, played with such explosive ability by Lauren Ashley Carter, and provides you with a flashing light and sound experience that feels so unlike anything from this era of horror, that you can’t help but to smile throughout the entire film.
When we meet Darling, she’s soft spoken and looking forward to the job that’s in front of her, but that softness and her desire to look throughout the house leads her to a room that is locked. When she asks the home’s owner (Sean Young) about the room, she’s told to not worry about the room and to stay away from it. Like any mystery, as a viewer, we, like Darling, are enthralled by what could or could not be behind that door. It’s what we don’t know that drives our thoughts, and when Darling begins to see and hear odd things, like her, we start to believe that something could very well be wrong with the place. We see that paranoia in Carter’s performance, a paranoia that soon leads her mind to a breaking point, when while walking one day, she drops an inverted cross necklace that she found, and she’s frightened by a man alerting her to the fact that she dropped it. “The Man, played by the always great Brian Morvant (POD, THE MIND’S EYE), is soon stalked by Darling, with her mental descent getting worse and worse, leading to an encounter that pushes Darling over the edge of coming back.
It’s that ability to give his characters and the stories in which they inhabit a realistic tone that really makes Keating’s films so enjoyable. He’s able to provide that realness to his films, and though DARLING is definitely what a typical person goes through, there’s still something about the film that makes its viewerforget that they’re watching a film, it’s more of an experience. A crucial part to DARLING‘s effectiveness, aside from its excellent performances from Carter and Morvant, and the masterful direction of Keating, is in its editing and sound. Those two elements are so impressive, that like Darling or The Man, the sound and editing are important characters within the film. Valerie Krulfeifer’s ability to make DARLING such an impressively cut film speaks wonders on her abilities as an editor, and with how completely insane the film is, she deserves an award for doing such a magnificent job, the same said for sound editor Shawn Duffy. The combination of such intense sound design, frenetic editing, home run directing and Carter’s eye opening performance really sets the film apart from every other film coming out these days.
With the strength of DARLING, it’s now a game for every Fantastic Fest film this year to try to reach that level, but it’s without a doubt, a powerful and hypnotic masterpiece of madness and paranoia that will be quite the task to compete with. Good luck everyone else.
The Austin Chronicle
Richard Whittacker 7/30/2015
Blood. Gore. Guts. The simple mainstays of horror. But there is little more terrifying than the creeping ambiguity and uncertainty of madness, and director Mickey Keating‘s latest, Darling, is a shrieking, stylish throwback to classic creeping psychological horror.
Darling is basically a one-woman show, with the camera trained almost constantly on Lauren Ashley Carter (Jugface) as the title character. Her name is never revealed nor offered: Instead, she picks up this nomenclature courtesy of Madame, a New York aristocrat (played with dizzy regality by Sean Young), who has hired her as caretaker for a rambling four-story Manhattan mansion. The house comes with a history, as both Madame and a neighbor (Brian Morvant) tell her. Yet Darling is oddly short of such a history herself, a blank slate in a house of secrets.
Just as his SXSW crowd-pleaser Pod was a note-perfect homage to Nineties sci-fi horror, Darling is writer/director Keating’s unabashed love letter to Roman Polanski’s early English-language work, with undoubted nods to themes and motifs of his apartment trilogy (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Tenant). Fans of Keating’s producer, patron, and cameo star Larry Fessenden will also see the greasy fingerprints of his Habit here, especially in its greasy suspicion of its unreliable narrator in a supernaturally-shadowed NYC.
Lots of directors have the chops to copy the greats, but this isn’t just bald imitation. On only his third film, Keating has already established an instantly recognizable style. Call them Keating Beats: Whether it’s strobe-speed edit, a sound mix that will deliberately challenge the listener, or simply the decision to shoot in stark black and white, they constantly throw the audience off guard.
As for Carter herself, she’s the Audrey Hepburn of indie horror. She catches Darling as a woman in full collapse, and much like Zoe Tamerlis Lund in Ms. 45 (another Keating touchstone). Much of her drama is an internal monologue refracted through her huge, moon-pool eyes. The same openness that made Carter such the perfect brave little sister in Pod here translates as eeriness, especially her willingness to stare, emotionless, expressionless back at the camera. Keating’s willingness to knock down the fourth wall (another of his trademark tricks) plays to his leading lady’s alluring and alarming strength. For an interview with Keating, see “Darling Mickey,” Sept. 25.
All Things Horror
Mike Snoonian 10/31/2015
A. V. Club
Katie Rife 9/25/2015
Darling (B+), the fourth feature from Pod’s Mickey Keating. Lauren Ashley Carter (Pod, Jug Face) turns in a mesmerizing performance as Darling, an anonymous woman in an indeterminate year who takes a care-taking job in an elegant New York townhouse. On her way out the door, the owner tells Darling that there have been rumors about the house and its former caretaker, who committed suicide. But, she assures her, “nothing like that could ever happen again.” Shot in gorgeous black and white, this pseudo-Satanic riff on Repulsion and The Shining uses minimal locations and minimal characters; Sean Young and Larry Fessenden provide genre cred in small roles, but Carter is alone on screen for most of the movie. Her breakdown (or maybe it’s a possession?) is underscored by jarring sound effects and flashy editing tricks that, applied incorrectly, could seem pretentious. But here, they work, because they actually makes sense in the context of the story. Deeply unsettling, with flashes of extreme violence, Darling is a ghost story with no ghost, just Carter’s intense eyes, expressive face, and an ominous white door at the end of a hallway.
Zach Bugdor 09/30/15
Mickey Keating’s Darling is a lovingly-crafted Polanski mixtape. If the idea of “Repulsion, but also The Tenant” gets your juices flowing, stop reading here and find a way to watch it.
Indie stalwart Lauren Ashley Carter (Jug Face, The Woman) gives an incredible performance as a woman (only called “Darling” in the film) beset both by trauma and supernatural assault; she’s withdrawn, awkward, savage, enraged, and terrifying by turns. It’s really her show: other actors pop in and out but Carter dominates the majority of the film.
Darling is the new caretaker of a luxe New York apartment, and slowly finds herself coming under the spell of a mysteriously locked room upstairs. To say any more about the story would literally constitute a full plot synopsis. Keating and company (special mention goes to editor Valerie Krulfeifer) conjure an atmosphere of bleak dread, punctuated by ruthless, liberally-deployed jump scares and made beautiful by luminescent black-and-white cinematography, assaultive sound design, and a sort of addled, hazy jazz score that on several occasions lurches into grindcore.
SUCH CONFIDENT ABANDON
This is the type of movie—tone-heavy, stylish, minimal—that is really, really difficult to get right.Darling knows that. That’s why it’s a cool 78 minutes. There’s not enough time for its tricks to wear thin. It doesn’t go anywhere unexpected, and in fact takes a few turns that irked me in other recent horror movies: but it executes with such white-knuckle style, such confident abandon, that it’s mesmerizing. Everyone involved in this thing gives it their fucking all, and the result is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, festival or no festival.
Matt Barone 10/2/2015
Darling, written and directed by the tireless and on-the-rise filmmaker Mickey Keating, could have easily been yet another one-note horror pastiche. Shot in black-and-white and pitched as a psychological throwback to ’60s films, Keating’s third feature seemed, at first glance, like it’d simply be a promising young director’s cinematic love letter to Roman Polanski’s one-two punch of Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby and everything Stanley Kubrick ever made. Reverent, but not original. Lauren Ashley Carter plays a mentally disturbed woman who accepts a caretaker job inside a spacious Manhattan mansion; left on her own, she slowly loses her mind. Does the madness stem from the locked room upstairs? Does it have anything to do with the urban legends about the mansion’s history with the occult? Or is she just plain old bug-nuts?
On paper, Darling sounds like every other women-going-crazy horror movie out there, but Keating’s film is anything but ordinary. Whereas his two earlier films, the Satanically tinged Ritual (2013) and the paranoia-laced sci-fi/horror Pod (2015), were mixed bags with frequent dashes of high-level scares found amidst narrative stumbles, Darling is a quantum leap forward both stylistically and technically. Merely using Polanski and Kubrick as jump-off points, Keating accelerates Carter’s character’s descent into dangerous hysteria with a plethora of disorienting flourishes. The occasional strobe-light effects give the film a hallucinogenic aura; violent cutaways to close-ups of Carter’s screaming face and unknown corpses lend Darling an unpredictability that’s electric.
Only 78 minutes long, Keating’s film is lean, mean, and hauntingly on-edge. Indie distributor Screen Media picked Darling up out of Fantastic Fest, due to the film’s thick buzz in Austin. Whenever it’s released in 2016, you’ll want to make it a priority.
Karen Benardello 3/30/2016
Interview: Mickey Keating Talks Darling (Exclusive)
Having the past relentlessly come back to haunt you can be a truly horrifying experience. The ordeal can be even more terrifying when those menacing memories aren’t even your own. ‘Darling,’ which is the new gripping thriller from versatile genre writer-director-producer, Mickey Keating, powerfully and alluringly explores how the history of a reportedly haunted New York mansion quickly deteriorates the psyche of a vulnerable young woman.
The chilling fourth psychological horror feature from Keating was entrancingly shot in black and white in the sprawling city. ‘Darling,’ which enthrallingly focuses on the emotional crisis of the title character through a limited use of dialogue, as it primarily focuses on her body language and the camera movements, premiered in September at Fantastic Fest. The thriller will be distributed into theaters by Screen Media Films on Friday.
‘Darling’ follows the lonely title character (Lauren Ashley Carter), who moves into an old, mysterious Manhattan mansion. She’s employed as a caretaker by the home’s older owner, who’s only referenced to as Madame (Sean Young) by the seemingly virtuous protagonist. The home owner, who quickly dubs the young woman who’s set to begin working for her, as Darling, casually mentions that the last woman she employed jumped off the building’s balcony to her death.
Soon after arriving at the mansion, Darling is left alone with far too much time on her hands. As she innocently wanders through the house’s lavish rooms, her recent discovery that the estate may be haunted becomes a backdrop for her violent descent into madness. The stories that have fueled the mansion’s reputation, as well as her detection of a locked room that she can’t open, lead to the loss of her touch with reality.
With her emotions crumbling, Darling decides to leave the confines of the house and visit a local bar. While there, she meets a man (Brian Morvant) who readily accepts her invitation to accompany her home. When the two arrive at the estate, the complete unraveling of Darling’s emotional and mental health are quickly revealed, showcasing how much an environment and the power of suggestion can truly affect people.
Keating generously took the time to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Darling’ over the phone during an exclusive interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how as he was finishing editing his previous horror movie with Carter, last year’s ‘Pod,’ he began watching numerous 1960-70s surreal thrillers, which inspired him to create the character and story for ‘Darling.’ He also mentioned how he reunited with cinematographer Mac Fisken, after working with him on several of the previous films he directed, including ‘Pod’ and ‘Ritual.’ The two worked together to bring the helmer’s idea on how to make their latest movie very minimalist, stark and restrained, in terms of the composition and camera movement, to life.
ShockYa (SY): You wrote the new thriller, ‘Darling,’ which follows the title character as she loses touch with reality while house sitting for a wealthy socialite in New York City. What was the genesis of the story, and what was the process of then developing it into the script?
Mickey Keating (MK): Well, when we were just about wrapping up the edit on my movie, ‘Pod,’ I started watching a lot of new movies to get back into the zone. I found that I was watching a lot of 1960-70s thrillers that are really surreal, creepy and psychedelic. I was watching movies like ‘The Haunting,’ ‘The Innocents’ and ‘Repulsion.’ So I started writing from that.
Originally, (‘Darling’) was supposed to be a little bit more like ‘Repulsion’ and take place in a big New York City apartment. But when I started talking to Lauren, the star of the film, she said, “I know these people who have this house. Maybe they’ll be interested in letting us film there.” From there, they said yes, so I wrote the script around that, and we then shot it. So it was all very fortuitous that we made the film that (audiences) are seeing today.
SY: Besides penning the screenplay, you also directed ‘Darling,’ after writing and helming your previous films, ‘Pod,’ ‘Ritual’ and ‘Ultra Violence.’ How does working on the script influence your work as a director? Why do you feel its beneficial to do both duties on your films?
MK: Of course. I write my scripts for myself to direct. So it’s very exciting and freeing to just have the freedom to write what I want to direct. So it was satisfying to write something specifically for me as a personal project, and not have to worry about sending it out to too many people and explaining too much.
The script wasn’t tremendously traditional in the Hollywood sense. I drew a lot of pictures and shots, as it’s not a dialogue-heavy script; there are only a few pages of dialogue, so it was almost like making a comic book.
SY: Speaking of drawing pictures of the film before you began filming, how did having those storyboards influence the way you approached filming in the mansion in New York City?
MK: Yes, from the very beginning I knew that I wanted the movie to be very minimalist, stark and restrained, in terms of the composition and camera movement. On my previous films, we tried to have really aggressive camera movements, so much so that the cameras were almost like characters.
But on this movie, the intention was to try to make every frame look like a painting. So even before the script was written, I knew that was the kind of aesthetic that I wanted to capture. Hence the reason why the house is very bare, white and sterile in a lot of moments.
SY: What was your collaboration process like with ‘Darling’s cinematographer, Mac Fisken, who you also worked with on ‘Pod’ and ‘Ritual?’ Did you both feel it was important to include such elements as strobe lights and quick cuts to showcase the title character’s loss of touch with reality?
MK: I’ve worked with Mac for five movies now. So we have developed a language for the vibe that we want to capture. So for this movie, we knew it was important to shoot it on very wide angle lenses, in order for it to have this very elegant feel to it. For all of our movies, we always try to get one solid long take, as they’re very important to me.
For this one, instead of having weaving Steadicam movements, we locked off the camera for almost four minutes, and we didn’t cut away from that. It took a while to shoot those kinds of shots, but it was a lot more satisfying, in a way, because there wasn’t a lot of time wasted getting coverage that no one’s ever going to see.
SY: The title character in ‘Darling’ is played by Lauren Ashley Carter, who you mentioned earlier. What is it about her acting that convinced you to cast her again in your new film? Since the thriller primarily features only her as her character tries to contend with the house’s reported haunted past on her own, what was the process of collaborating with her, in order to capture her heightened emotions in her scenes?
MK: I love when I can talk to, and work with, an actor, and then present them with a totally different idea or character. One of my favorite things in movies that directors do is when an actor plays a great character in one of their films. Then in their next movie, the actor will do a complete 180-degree turn from the previous film. I think that’s cool and really impressive.
So that was the approach for this film, as Lauren played the screaming victim in ‘Pod.’ So it was interesting to me that while we were in post-production on ‘Pod,’ and I was also watching all of the fractured, descent-into-madness type of movies, I thought, it would be interesting to see if Lauren would be able to do something like that. I also thought it would be interesting to see if Brian, who played the insane brother in ‘Pod,’ could also do a 180 and play the victim, in ‘Darling.’ So it was a really exciting process to see them both be able to do that.
I’ll continue to do that with my next few films, as well. Ashley Bell is one of the main actors in my upcoming movie, ‘Carnage Park.’ In my next movie, ‘Psychopaths,’ we flipped it again, and made her completely different. So it’s something I hope to continue to do with many more actors in the future.
SY: You also featured an interesting score in the film, as you incorporated both quiet and loud sounds to also reflect Darling’s slow detachment from reality. What was the process of also creating the score in the film, in order to reflect the distinct emotions she experiences?
MK: The score was very exciting and interesting, because it was very important to me to make something that really gets under your skin. It was more important to me to make something that creates a deep internal reaction, as opposed to a big traditional score, for a majority of the film.
But I still wanted it to feel traditional and elegant in certain ways. So we went through a lot of noise. One of my favorite Robert Altman movies is called ‘Images,’ and that soundtrack is brilliant. It was created by a Japanese noise artist. ‘The Exorcist’ soundtrack also left a big impact on me.
SY: What was your collaboration process like with ‘Darling’s editor, Valerie Krulfeifer, as you determined how to mix the visual, audio and emotional elements into the final cut of the thriller?
MK: Yes, I think the editing was super specific. We were inspired by, first and foremost, the experimental filmmakers, Hollis Frampton and Stan Brakhage. It’s really about the embrace of editing as its own aggressive art form, which was really exciting.
The big reference point for us was the stylistic editing of the nightmare sequence of ‘The Exorcist.’ If you watch that kind of continuation of experimental montage, where it’s just jarring imagery that’s intercut for a split second, it’s terrifying. If you see the face of the demon, even for one second, it’s horrifying.
So we really wanted to play with the idea that while you’re watching our film, nothing’s safe. There’s really nothing that you can anticipate. I think that puts people on edge, tremendously.
SY: With all of your films being in the horror and thriller genres, what genre filmmakers have inspired you in the way that you approach making your movies?
MK: It’s funny, because a lot of my favorite filmmakers aren’t necessarily horror directors, although a few of them have had their hands in the genre. Robert Altman is my favorite, and I think ‘Images’ is really indicative of ‘Darling’ in a lot of ways.
I also love the work of Roman Polanski, Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers, and Billy Wilder is one of my favorite filmmakers. With the exception of Woody Allen, I would say all of my favorite directors have kind of dabbled in genre films, and in the horror genre, in particular. They’re always making different films, and are putting their own creative spin on their work.
SY: Besides writing and directing the thriller, you also served as one of the producers. Why did you also decide to also produce the film-was it beneficial to getting it made?
MK: No, not necessarily. I think it’s all kind of the same process. All of my films, regardless of their size, are made the same way. It’s all a matter of distributing credit to particular people at particular times.
‘Darling’ was a film where I raised the financing, and did more work as a producer during in the pre- and post-production stages. But during the production of the film, I try not to let that element of filmmaking really bleed into the actual artistic creativity. If you spend all day worrying about craft services, it hinders the effect of the emotion you’re trying to create. I compartmentalize, but I don’t think that my input as a producer on ‘Darling’ was any different than my films on which I’m not credited as a producer.
SY: ‘Darling’ premiered last September at Fantastic Fest in Austin. What was the experience of bringing the movie on the film festival circuit, particularly Fantastic Fest, and interacting with the audiences who attended the screenings?
MK: It was incredible and amazing. I feel very lucky that I have been given the opportunity to hang out with audiences and show them my movie. I think it’s so exciting to make a movie like this, which is different from a lot of the other movies you’re seeing in horror today, including the aesthetic of making it in black and white. It’s exhilarating to sit with an audience and share something new with them.
I think this movie also evokes a lot of dialogue after the credits roll. So it’s thrilling to be able to show the film to as many people as I possibly can, and I’m lucky that people seem to be responding to this one.
SY: Speaking of showing ‘Darling’ in black and white, why did you decide present it in that way? Did you think it would make the story and title character more intriguing in black and white than in color?
MK: I think so. Anyone in the entire world can shoot something in New York City. But what we wanted to do was create this separation between the audience and what’s on the screen. I think in black and white, New York becomes its own dream-world state. That was something that was very exciting to do.
All of the movies that I was watching as I was writing the script for ‘Darling’ were in black and white. So naturally, in my mind’s eye, the movie, even though I hadn’t made it yet, looked black and white. I think it’s very exciting to do something like that.
SY: With the majority of the film set in the mansion that Darling’s housesitting, as well as several of the home’s surrounding New York City blocks, what was the overall experience of filming on location? How did that process influence the way you could shoot the movie?
MK: I think the approach that I went for very early on was to make the mansion look like the hotel in (the Coen Brothers’ 1991 comedy-drama,) ‘Barton Fink.’ While you never see that hotel from the outside, or even its layout, you get this all encompassing ominous feeling about it. It seems other worldly in a sense. Even when John Turturro (who plays the title character) goes outside and into the world, there’s still this massive separation between his life outside and inside the hotel. So that’s what I wanted to try to do in ‘Darling.’
The mansion that we shot in was an old, renovated boarding school from the 1900s. So just the way the architecture is laid out creates this separation between what’s inside the house and what New York City actually looks like outside. So having the mansion really benefited us, and allowed us to create this dream world that we created in the movie.
SY: Like you mentioned earlier, besides ‘Darling,’ you also wrote and directed the upcoming horror films ‘Carnage Park’ and ‘Psychopaths.’ Are there any details about those two movies that you can discuss?
MK: Sure! ‘Carnage Park’ is going to be released by IFC over the summer. It stars Ashley Bell and Pat Healy and a great ensemble cast. It’s a completely different turn from ‘Darling.’ It’s a ‘Most Dangerous Game’ type of movie that’s set in the desert, and it’s vicious and bloody.
‘Psychopath’s is almost like a 1970s psychedelic dream. It’s an ensemble piece about a bunch of serial killers over the course of one night. It stars Larry Fessenden and Helen Rogers, who are also both in ‘Darling;’ Helen is one of the main actresses in ‘Psychopath.’ So I think all three of these movies are all very different from each other, especially since they’re back-to-back. So I’m interested in seeing which one people like the best.
April 1, 2016
Darling, written and directed by the tireless and on-the-rise filmmaker Mickey Keating, could have easily been yet another one-note horror pastiche. Shot in black-and-white and pitched as a psychological throwback to ’60s films, Keating’s third feature seemed, at first glance, like it’d simply be a promising young director’s cinematic love letter to Roman Polanski’s one-two punch ofRepulsion and Rosemary’s Baby and everything Stanley Kubrick ever made. Reverent, but not original. Lauren Ashley Carter plays a mentally disturbed woman who accepts a caretaker job inside a spacious Manhattan mansion; left on her own, she slowly loses her mind. Does the madness stem from the locked room upstairs? Does it have anything to do with the urban legends about the mansion’s history with the occult? Or is she just plain old bug-nuts?
On paper, Darling sounds like every other women-going-crazy horror movie out there, but Keating’s film is anything but ordinary. Whereas his two earlier films, the satanically tinged Ritual (2013) and the paranoia-laced sci-fi/horror Pod (2015), were mixed bags with frequent dashes of high-level scares found amidst narrative stumbles, Darling is a quantum leap forward both stylistically and technically. Using Polanski and Kubrick as jump-off points, Keating accelerates Carter’s character’s descent into dangerous hysteria with a plethora of disorienting flourishes. The occasional strobe-light effects give the film a hallucinogenic aura; violent cutaways to close-ups of Carter’s screaming face and unknown corpses lend Darling an unpredictability that’s electric.
Carlos Aguilar 4/1/16
‘Darling’ Dir. Mickey Keating on Being Inspired by Classic Horror to Form Highly Stylized Nightmares
Channeling some of the most legendary masters of tension and fright in cinema history, young auteur Mickey Keating takes an empty New York house and a lonely young woman and molds these two seemingly traditional tropes into a black-and-white nightmare. Plunging into the viewer’s sense with bone-shaking atmospheric sounds and cohesively deranged editing, “Darling” shatters any expectations and delivers an immersive experience of intimate horror. The film’s star, Lauren Ashley Carter is an absolute revelation. Each scream, gesture, and diabolically spoken line of dialogue compliments the elegantly designed frames inspired by 1960s genre gems. Unsettling from its opening frame to its unshakable horrifying conclusion, Keating’s minimalist creation is an alluring and elegantly diabolical vision. An exquisite genre work to be counted among the best horror films of the year.
“Darling” is now playing in NYC at the Village East Cinema and opens April 8 in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema.
I made the big mistake of watching “Darling” at night. It was absolutely terrifying. It took me by surprise, because its very economical in its design, but its very powerful in the emotions that it provokes. Tell me a little bit about the inception of the project and the films that you use as references or influences that inspired its visual aesthetics.
Mickey Keating: I think first and foremost its an homage to 1960s psychological horror movies with fractured narratives told with untrustworthy protagonists. Films like “The Haunting,” “The Innocents,” “Repulsion,” “Diabolique,” “That Cold Day in the Park” by Robert Altman, which show a much more restrained, psychological decent into madness. That’s what really inspired me to write this one. In terms of composition and framing and camerawork, I turned towards a lot of Haneke films and then also restrained Kubrick-ian and Hitchcock-ian type black-and-white horror movies. It was a great eclectic mix of all these insane, beautiful works of art.
Aguilar: While writing “Darling,” were you certain from the start that you wanted it to be focused on a single character with a story that takes place in a single location and very economical in its mechanics?
Mickey Keating: Definitely. It was very important for me to have this movie be this way because my two previous films were really about characters that were playing off one another, really interacting, debating and fighting one another, so with this film I wanted to be much quieter. I wanted to focus on one single person predominately. From the very beginning it was this way. If we could have had no characters in the film we would have tried.
Aguilar: Can you talk about your stylistic decisions including choosing to make the film in black-and-white, the unique framing, and the evocative lighting? The film is definitely a departure from what we commonly see today in the horror genre.
Mickey Keating: I think what was really important for me with this movie was a certain level of restraint. Horror movies, especially indie horror movies, in the past 5 years, have been nothing but hand-held footage and not necessarily about anything beyond trying to capture this weird pathetic intensity and also jump scares. What I really wanted to try and do was push back and go in the complete opposite direction of that. From the get go it was supposed to be like this. The script’s not very long and it was all about, “OK, we’re going to try to make every shot a painting.” We knew we were going to really fixate on how we could tell the story the best way possible with the composition, which is a much more traditional approach in terms of classical filmmaking techniques. It was very satisfying to strip that back and really get back on the same page as traditional audiences and not have to try to fool them with fake realism or anything like that.
Aguilar: Editing is a crucial part of what makes “Darling” successful. You chose to use intercuts that can be perceived as flashbacks to what brought the character to this point or as premonitions of what’s yet to come.
Mickey Keating: Absolutely. While I was writing the movie, we were also watching a whole bunch of 1960s experimental films. Even the works of John Schlesinger, like “Midnight Cowboy,” or especially that dream sequence in “The Exorcist.”There was this really exciting notion back then that had this fluidity in editing. The editor is just as present as the cinematographer or anyone else on the film. That’s what we kind of wanted to do, create this almost liquid type of storytelling that’s very abrupt and in a weird way upsetting. I think the goal was to make the audience who endured the film really unsettled and uncomfortable and always on edge. I feel like an exciting, effective horror film for me is a horror film that I can never really see where anything is coming from. That’s what we really tried with this one.
Aguilar: What builds the unsettling atmosphere in “Darling” is the fantastic sound work that enhances the imagery on screen. This is clearly of crucial importance in horror films but sometimes it can be feel overused or on-the-nose. Not in this case. Tell me about the process of creating this other layer of emotion through sound.
Mickey Keating: Definitely. Because the film takes place mostly inside in the house, it was really important for me. Sound is a huge passion of mine, sound design is one of my favorite things in the world, and I think that it’s often underutilized. Going back to that idea of pure naturalism, it just kind of exists in the space. What I wanted to do from the very beginning of shooting was give each room, each floor, each kind of location in the house its own sound and its own feeling, as if the house is its own being. Darling walks throughout its body. When she gets up to the door on the top floor, that’s like being in its brain and in the middle that’s like being in its lungs. Every single area is set up differently. It’s really upsetting in a way because it makes you very disturbed. Where we looked to for that was the video game “Silent Hill.” It has the greatest example of sound work in the entire world because the majority of the first game, especially, is walking around. There are very few monsters in that game, but you are so constantly horrified and on edge because you can never anticipate what’s gonna come next because that sound Is always moving, always liquid, and always changing. Very disturbing I feel.
Aguilar: “Darling” is also a period piece even though this is never specified or delved into. It’s a very noticeable quality of the film that coincides with the films that inspire you, but is not a definite factor in how we perceive the story.
Mickey Keating: I think if we had decided to go full blown 1960’s black-and-white probably we would have been pushing it a little bit too far. I didn’t want tot make a movie that wouldn’t be able to get an audience on all, or at least some level. My favorite thing I’ve ever read about David Lynch is that his moves exist in a dream-time in a way. They’re very heavy handed 1950s but clearly there’s some from the 80s. All these references make all of his films very anachronistic, and that’s was my intention. While its definitely a 1960s type of horror film, we never explicitly say it. The fact that the world is all black-and-white and New York sounds very strange in the film, it almost seems like it exists on another plane, or at least that was my intention.
Aguilar: Tell me about your star, Lauren Ashley Carter, who is terrific and terrifying beyond belief. Her screams and her facial expressions are really hard to shake off once the film is over.
Mickey Keating: I knew Lauren because she was in my previous film, and in my previous film she’s one of the victims. She screams, she’s terrified, and so for this movie I wanted to flip that on its head. I wanted to cast her again and see where else she, as an actor, could go. When I was talking to her I referenced a lot of movies like “The Seventh Continent” by Michael Haneke and we also talked about those old 1920s horror movies where you see those violent screams that burn in your mind. She totally took that and ran with it. It was very exciting to be able to bring her on board. She’s definitely fantastic. It was also very exciting to be able to bring Sean Young on board as well as Brian Morvant, from my previous film, who plays the antagonist in the film. I wanted to flip that again and have him play the victim in this one. It was really a total world of friends making movies with friends, which is very satisfying.
Aguilar: Her character is sort of a blend between a victim and a villain. She has this sort of duality about her throughout the film, which that doesn’t let us know what she really is until late in the film.
Mickey Keating: Absolutely. That even goes back to southern gothic literature or even a movie like “Taxi Driver.” When Travis is doing the pushups and we see he has all these scars all up his back, we know he clearly has a very disturbed past, and yet somehow he’s still the protagonist. Travis Bickle was always a big point of reference for that as well.
Aguilar: What would you say were some of the most difficult hurdles you had to overcome to make an independent horror film at this scale and with the particularities that “Darling” showcases? How difficult was it to get people on board with the project you envisioned?
Mickey Keating: There are plenty. Its never easy. I think that at all scales of movies there’s always stuff that’s very difficult, stressful and horrible to deal with and that never really changes. If you have enough money to solve anybody’s problem, then clearly theres somebody who will charge that rate. It’s never quite easy. I think the main challenge on a film like this was first and foremost that I wanted to make a black-and-white movie. A lot of people, when I even mentioned it before I even shot it, would say, “Oh don’t do black-and-white because you can’t sell it.” Clearly that’s not the case, so it’s interesting. I feel like if I had brought this to any other production company besides Glass Eye Pix it wouldn’t have happened. Nobody wants to be the guy saying, “Alright, lets make a black-and-white period horror movie,” but everyone wants to come on board after the fact, which is very very frustrating to me in a lot of ways. I think that’s one of the challenges, being able to step back and say, “No, we’re going to find a way to make this. We’re going to figure out something. No matter what anyone says we’re going to make this movie this way.” Another challenge that really kind of comes to mind was, shooting in New York City in November was not easy. It was raining and it was cold. I’m from Florida originally and I live in California, so it was just a nightmare. But I think what’s fortunate about these movies is that we make them for a price so we make the movies that we are excited to make. Hopefully the right people that are drawn to them are drawn to them and everybody is happy at the end of the day. Overall it was a great experience.
Aguilar: The constraints that come with independent filmmaking, whether these are financial or logistical, often force artists to elevate their creativity to new heights in order to find solutions. Of course having more money makes things easier. Creative freedom that comes with a reasonable budget would be ideal.
Mickey Keating: Absolutely, there is a difference between committee filmmaking and having an individual voice. For all these movies that we are referencing and celebrating that used to be a no-brainer. You got a lot of money and you could make something that was very personal. Now, the way that the landscape of filmmaking has changed, every cent that you get that’s more than $1 million comes with a great big asterisk. It was great to be able to do something that was very personal. I had a great support system through Glass Eye Pix, they were totally like, “Yeah, do your thing.” It was great.
Aguilar: How have audiences reacted to the film? There is, of course, a niche audiences that will probaly enjoy the elegant madness of the film. Has that been the case?
Mickey Keating: In general in terms of the movies that I make, people are either very rabidly passionate about them or rabidly hateful towards them [Laughs]. The people who have been supportive of “Darling” have been very vocally supportive. I feel like what’s so fun about a movie like this is that in the first 30 seconds of it you are going to decide whether it’s a movie for you or not. In a way that’s very exciting because people who have stayed on the roller-coaster and gone all the way through are very adamant about how they feel and the emotions that it invoked. To me it just comes down to the fact that you are creating a conversation with your audience. The more you can talk about it, it’s a sign of an effective film and there have been a lot of conversations about this one so far, which is very exciting.
Aguilar: This is a film that takes a seemingly peaceful locations and a passive character and turns those preconceived notions on their head.
Mickey Keating: Definitely, We kind of approached the movie almost like a drug trip using the chapters. I’m not use drugs guy, but I think you can see that at the beginning there is this excitement and the further you get along down the rabbit hole or down the drug trip it becomes more jarring and fractured, and then by the last chapter it’s almost something like a hangover. It was very exciting to try to tell that story that way.
Aguilar: Seems like this is a busy year for you. What is the next frightening trip you are taking us on?
Mickey Keating: I have another movie coming out soon called “Carnage Park” that we premiered at Sudnance and SXSW this year. It’ll be out in the summer. I also just wrapped another film called “Psychopaths,” which is an ensemble serial killers movie. It’s basically a whole bunch of stories about a whole bunch of serial killers over the course of one night in Los Angeles. This film’s sensibilities are a bit closer to “Darling’s” because “Carnage Park” is definitely a Sam Peckinpah-esque, Neo-Western, survival type movie. “Psychopaths” is much more of a psychedelic fever dream, which we are very excited to start showing people.
Alison Nastasi 4/2/2016
10 Mesmerizing Descent-Into-Madness Films
A young woman takes a job as a caretaker at a large New York City mansion with a troubling history in Mickey Keating’s Darling, which opened in theaters this weekend. Keating’s black-and-white homage to famous descent-into-madness films, particularly the oeuvre of Roman Polanski, inspired us to revisit other mesmerizing movies about losing your goddamn mind.
Luis H.C. 2/15/2016
In a world full of soulless remakes and unnecessary sequels, it’s good to have a robust indie market to fulfill our more obscure horror needs. There is a dark side to independent filmmaking, however, as most of these films walk a fine line between artsy trash and low budget masterpieces. In Mickey Keating’s Darling, we’re presented with a mesmerizing experience that knows which side of the line it’s on, due in no small part to Lauren Ashley Carter’s amazing work as the unnamed protagonist.
The story follows a troubled young woman that becomes the caretaker for a mysterious New York mansion with a dark past. Left to her own devices by the mansion’s owners and tormented by confusing visions and nightmares, the woman begins to lose her mind as she encounters impossibly familiar faces on the street and deals with terrifying memories. Seemingly trapped by the house, she is left with no choice but to descend into madness.
It may not be the world’s most complex story, but the screenplay seems almost superfluous in a film that relies so heavily on visual storytelling. In fact, there is very little dialogue in the movie, and the few lines that are spoken are so ambiguous that they sometimes leave you with more questions than answers. This works in Darling’s favor, as the viewer is never quite sure if either the house or the leading lady is responsible for the horrific events depicted onscreen.
Although Darling boasts a modest budget, the cast and production values are phenomenal. There are only a couple of defined characters here, but their interaction (or lack thereof) helps to sell the protagonist’s extreme isolation, despite living in a metropolis. In the end, Carter does steal the show, but Sean Young and Brian Morvant are also excellent in their small but effective roles. Larry Fessenden also has a small cameo towards the end, which is always a pleasant surprise.
Mickey Keating’s direction is also inspired, with German expressionist undertones and classic horror atmosphere permeating every scene. The monochrome visuals may be off-putting to some, but they are masterfully used here, enhancing some of the gothic imagery instead of looking cheap.Darling does have some pacing problems, but the slower scenes are almost all done in service of mood and atmosphere, so these moments are easy to forgive.
There may be quite a few other films out there with a similar premise, but Darling is too charming and impactful to criticized for being derivative. The minimalist script and direction leave you mesmerized, and Lauren Ashley Carter’s stellar performance simply can not be ignored. It may not be a perfect horror film, but it’s damn good one, and I hope to see more of Keating and Carter in the future.
Famous Monsters of Filmland
Daniel Wilder 2/22/16
The A.V. Club
Katie Rife Mar 31, 2016
The audaciously stylish Darling introduces a new master and queen of horror
For their second low-budget horror collaboration, after the ambitious if flawedalien-invasion movie Pod, director Mickey Keating and actress Lauren Ashley Carter went a little more classical. Darling plays like something that might have screened at the Anthology Film Archives in the heady, occult-tinged early ’70s, an artfully shot black-and-white riff on Repulsion and The Shining (no, The Shininghadn’t been released then, but the comparison stands) told in fragmented chapters whose indelible images include a young woman in a beehive hairdo, spattered with a stranger’s blood.
Set in a Manhattan free of contemporary identifiers like cell phones and TVs,Darling opens with our title character (Carter) receiving instructions from Sean Young, playing the imperious, fur-clad “Madame” of the stately brownstone she will be housesitting. “Madame” informs her employee that the house has a bit of a reputation, especially after the previous caretaker killed herself last winter. She then sashays out the door, surely smelling of gardenias or roses or some other stately floral, leaving “Darling” alone to explore the place—and Carter to carry the film. She does so skillfully, captivating the viewer with her direct, wide-eyed gaze as her moods swing from placid passivity to primal terror to violent psychosis.
Later on, Carter’s Pod co-star Brian Morvant will appear as a man from the neighborhood who becomes the unlucky object of Darling’s fixation, and later still cult filmmaker Larry Fessenden shows up as a cop who stumbles on the aftermath of her breakdown. But for most of the movie, Carter is alone in the house, where she is inexplicably drawn to a locked door down at the end of a long white hallway. This, plus the discovery of a mysterious necklace in the guest bedroom, sends her into fits of what may or may not be possession, her fear expressed with flashing strobe lights and quick cut-ins of disturbing imagery, some of which turns out to be foreshadowing. (The opening title card reads “this film contains flashing lights and hallucinatory images,” and it’s not lying.)
This is all to say that Darling is light on plot and long on style, meaning that horror fans who criticized The Witch as “boring” may have a similar reaction here as well. (It does bring the black-and-white blood and pummeling intensity in a series of scenes about two-thirds of the way through, though, for what that’s worth. Plus, it’s less than 80 minutes long.) But regardless of your preferences in terms of storytelling, it’s hard to deny the artistry of Keating’s cinematography—which really utilizes the full depth and range of black-and-white—or of his sound design, which sees the menacing potential in both a ticking clock and a violent blast of metallic sound.
At the end of the film, it’s unclear whether what we have seen is, or ever was, “real.” This is a ghost story without a ghost, a tale of demonic possession that might also be about a psycho killer. But what it is, clearly, is an announcement: Keating, and his leading lady Carter, are horror masters in the making.
DARLING follows a lonely young woman who moves into an old, mysterious Manhattan mansion. Hired as caretaker, it’s not long before she discovers the estate’s haunted reputation and troubling past— stories that slowly transform into a backdrop for her twisted and violent descent into madness…
Mickey Keating’s new feature is a chilling black-and-white psychological horror story beautifully shot in New York City. Edited like a nightmare and scored like a hallucination, DARLING stars Lauren Ashley Carter (POD, JUG FACE) with supporting performances by Brian Morvant, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden, John Speredakos, and Helen Rogers. Produced by Fessenden and Jenn Wexler for Glass Eye Pix and Sean Fowler for Alexander Groupe. Keating and Carter are also producers, and composer Giona Ostinelli returns from the director’s previous feature to score this film. Poster art featured here done by Erin Mealing.
LAUREN ASHLEY CARTER, “Darling” – Already nearly a veteran in the cultish realm of dark cinema, Lauren has starred in such films as the 2011 Sundance Festival favorite, “The Woman,” by writer/director Lucky McKee, and the wildly anticipated “Jug Face,” which won her the best acting award at the Nocturna Film Festival in Madrid, Spain, which premiered theatrically in the U.S., late summer of 2013. Lauren can also be seen in “Premium Rush,” with Joseph Gordon Levitt, “The Prodigies,” and “Rising Stars.” Lauren’s theatrical credits include, Off-Broadway: “Night Sky,” “Any Given Monday” (59th e. 59th st.). Regional: Lewis Black’s “One Slight Hitch,” at the George St. Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ, which she later reprised, summer 2013 at the Well Fleet Harbor Theatre in Cape Cod.
SEAN YOUNG, “Madame” – Internationally acclaimed star of Screen, Television and Stage Sean Young has starred in over three dozen feature films, including such box office hits as “BLADE RUNNER”, “NO WAY OUT”, “ACE VENTURA PET DETECTIVE”, “COUSINS”, “WALL STREET” and “DUNE”. She has been fortunate to have worked with several of the most accomplished directors in the industry including Robert Altman, Harold Becker, Roger Donaldson, James Ivory, David Lynch, Gary Marshall, Ismail Merchant, Carl Reiner, Ivan Reitman, Ridley Scott, Tom Shadyak, Joel Shumacher, Oliver Stone and Gus Van Sant.
BRIAN MORVANT, “The Man” – Brian’s television roles include Gotham (FOX), Veep (HBO), Blue Bloods (CBS), Delocated (Adult Swim), and Guiding Light (CBS). He appeared in The Den (IFC Midnight) which debuted at the #1 slot on Netflix, and starred in the hit independent films The Grid (Best Pilot, New York International Film Festival) and My Date with Adam (Best Comedy, High Desert International Film Festival).
LARRY FESSENDEN, “Officer Maneretti” – Larry Fessenden is an actor and producer and the director of the art-horror movies NO TELLING, HABIT, WENDIGO and THE LAST WINTER, as well as he TV films SKIN AND BONES and BENEATH. He has produced dozens of moviess including THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, STAKE LAND, WENDY AND LUCY and THE COMEDY and acted in TV and Film including LOUIE, THE STRAIN, BROKEN FLOWERS and THE BRAVE ONE. Fessenden has operated the production shingle Glass Eye Pix since 1985 with the mission of supporting individual voices in the arts.
JOHN SPEREDAKOS, “Officer Clayton” – Long time Glass Eye pal, John Speredakos is an actor, known for Fantastic Four (2005), Inside Man (2006) and many Glass Eye films such as The House of the Devil, I Sell the Dead, and Wendigo. He also has done plenty of voice acting for Glass Eye Pix’s fan favorite audio play Tales From Beyond the Pale.
AL-NISA PETTY, “Ms. Hill” – She is an actress in Mickey Keating’s Darling (2015).
HELEN ROGERS, “New Girl” – Helen Rogers is an actress and writer, known for 24 Exposures (2013), Block (2011), V/H/S (2012) and Body (2015).
MICKEY KEATING, Writer / Producer / Director – Mickey Keating is a writer and director, known for Pod (2015), Ritual (2013) and Darling(2015).
JENN WEXLER, Producer – Writer/Director and a producer for NYC’s fierce production outfit, Glass Eye Pix. Her newest film, Mickey Keating’s psychochiller DARLING, received its world premiere this September at Fantastic Fest and will be distributed theatrically by Screen Media Films in 2016. Wexler is currently in post on two upcoming features, Ana Asensio’s docu-style thriller DAY TO NIGHT and Michael Vincent’s psychedelic fairytale ONLY A SWITCH, and prior to these she produced segments for two horror anthologies, Magnolia Pictures’ ABCs OF DEATH 2 and NBC Universal CHILLING VISIONS: 5 STATES OF FEAR. Additional feature film credits include Associate Producer on Larry Fessenden’s BENEATH and Post-Production Coordinator on Ti West’s THE SACRAMENT. Wexler directed short films that played US and international horror fests as well as Shock Till You Drop’s “Halloween Night” anthology series, and she cut her teeth in the genre space working at FEARnet, Lionsgate and Sony’s former TV channel dedicated to horror.
SEAN FOWLER, Producer – An Orlando, FL born film producer known for Paladar, Ritul, POD and Darling. He attended St. James Cathedral School, and Bishop Moore High School in Orlando. He went on to Seton Hall University, Rollins College, and Harvard University. He is member of Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Before beginning his career in the film business, he worked in real estate management in Florida.
LARRY FESSENDEN, Executive Producer – Larry Fessenden, winner of the 1997 Someone to Watch Spirit Award, and nominee for the 2010 Piaget Spirit Award for producing, is the writer, director and editor of the award-winning art-horror trilogy HABIT (Nominated for 2 Spirit Awards), WENDIGO (Winner Best Film 2001 Woodstock Film Festival) and NO TELLING. His film, THE LAST WINTER (Nominated for a 2007 Gotham Award for best ensemble cast), premiered at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival and was distributed through IFC. Fessenden directed SKIN AND BONES for NBC TV’s horror anthology FEAR ITSELF and the feature film BENEATH for Chiller films. He wrote the screenplay with Guillermo del Toro of ORPHANAGE, an English language remake of the successful Spanish film EL ORFANATO. He is the writer, with Graham Reznick of the hit Sony Playstation videogame UNTIL DAWN. Fessenden was awarded the 2007 Sitges Film Festival Maria Award for his work as a producer, actor and director in genre film, and he won the 2009 Golden Hammer Award for “being such an inspiring force in the industry.” In 2011, Fessenden was inducted into the “Fangoria Hall of Fame” and was honored by the UK’s Total Film as an Icon of Horror during the Frightfest Film Festival.
LAUREN ASHLEY CARTER, Executive Producer – Already nearly a veteran in the cultish realm of dark cinema, Lauren has starred in such films as the 2011 Sundance Festival favorite, “The Woman,” by writer/director Lucky McKee, and the wildly anticipated “Jug Face,” which won her the best acting award at the Nocturna Film Festival in Madrid, Spain, which premiered theatrically in the U.S., late summer of 2013. Lauren can also be seen in “Premium Rush,” with Joseph Gordon Levitt, “The Prodigies,” and “Rising Stars.” Lauren’s theatrical credits include, Off-Broadway: “Night Sky,” “Any Given Monday” (59th e. 59th st.). Regional: Lewis Black’s “One Slight Hitch,” at the George St. Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ, which she later reprised, summer 2013 at the Well Fleet Harbor Theatre in Cape Cod.
CHRIS SKOTCHDOPOLE, Associate Producer – Assistant directed films such as Pod and upcoming Glass Eye Pix feature Stray Bullets. He wrote and directed upcoming short film The Egg and The Hatchet.
TIM WU, Associate Producer – Known for his cinematography, camera and electrical work in titles such as Pod (2015), Borderland (2012) and Deadline (2014).
MAC FISKEN, Cinematographer – Known for his cinematography, camera and electrical work in titles such as Ritual (2013), Pod (2015) and Darling (2015).
Exclusive featurette explores the disturbed characters of “DARLING”Fangoria would like to introduce you to the characters of Darling http://www.fangoria.com/new/exclusive-featurette-explores-the-disturbed-characters-of-darling/Question Everything With This ‘Darling’ Soundtrack Sampler (Exclusive)‘Darling’ presented a wonderful opportunity to experiment creating a score as a combination of classical, noir and sound design elements. I was able to achieve a particular sound by creating a unique hallucinatory soundscape, which features a heaving distorted Ondes Martenot combined with various layers of piano going through a very specific type of reverb. On top of these hypnotic intricate sonorities, I occasionally introduced a distant solo trumpet, which added a disturbing noir element that worked perfectly with the black-and-white images. http://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3385053/question-everything-darling-soundtrack-sampler-exclusive/Darling Teaser TrailerDARLING follows a lonely young woman who moves into an old, mysterious Manhattan mansion. Hired as caretaker, it's not long before she discovers the estate's haunted reputation and troubling past— stories that slowly transform into a backdrop for her twisted and violent descent into madness...