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.
Read review HERE.
• RELEASE DATE: In Theaters April 1st
• WRITTEN BY: Mickey Keating
• DIRECTED BY: Mickey Keating
• STARRING: Lauren Ashley Carter, Brian Morvant, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden
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!
Read review HERE.
THE AISLE SEAT – by Mike McGranaghan
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)
Read review HERE.