This is a review for the Horror/Thriller film “Darling”, Written and Directed by young filmmaker, Mickey Keating (Ritual and POD). Darling takes you on a surreal journey inside the psyche of a lonely girl. The film stars Lauren Ashley Carter (Jug Face and The Woman), Brian Morvant (POD), Sean Young (Ace Venture: Pet Detective) and Writer/Director/Actor, Larry Fessenden. Originality, or a lack there of, tends to be what dominates the conversation surrounding the Horror sub-genre (at least among people I know). In an ever-changing world that’s just about seen everything, the general public’s demand and constant thirst for something new, something natural and raw, is an expectation getting harder an harder to meet. With each and every “slasher” or “found footage” horror film that hits Netflix, people are growing tired and even more disparaging of the genre. Personally, I’ll give anything horror related a spin, regardless of originality. We’re all inspired by something and for filmmakers, that’s usually their favourite films, so it would be near impossible to not draw on that insight. Rather than just condemning the basis of the idea, I try to look at their drive, the professionalism and pride they take in their work, as well as the ability to put their own spin on things. If you can take a similar approach, you’ll find yourself focusing more on the positives than the negatives, seguing me perfectly into my review of Keating’s film, Darling.
At its core, the concept of Darling depicts the internal struggle one has within themselves, searching for individualism, who we are and through different sets of circumstances what ultimately can become of us. The retro style poster art looks great. The design, a clear nod to films like Roman Polanski’s, “Repulsion” and even Hitchcock’s, “Psycho”. Darling carries its slow burn nature with pride and in order to have a truly immersing experience, you need to set aside all outside distractions and focus on every second of this film. The running time is only 75 minutes but it’s a perfect length. The film is set in New York, evident by the establishing shots in the beginning of the film and between acts. The still shots and gorgeous photography are akin to Lynch’s setup of “Eraserhead”. In fact, Keating’s entire film is layered with nods to such films as “The Omen”, “The Shining” and the aforementioned “Psycho. The action plays out in the style of some of Dario Argento’s early Giallo’s. Mickey tows the line with some scenes but never enters into downright plagiarism, something a lot of films are guilty of. He manages to be completely original while still paying homage to plenty of the classics. Our lonely girl (only referred to as Darling) has just taken on a caretakers job at a manor, where she starts to experience some deeply disturbing hallucinations. The film plays out in six chapters, each with their individual tone, all of them methodically planned out and executed superbly. Darling is definitely a mystery but none the less, she’s a very captivating young women. Keating has the confidence to quietly allude to her having potentially had a tainted past but never truly aims to convince you one way or the other. In that sense, the film is a layered one and he allows you to explore those layers without spoon-feeding you the culmination.
Darling is one of the first films (in the genre) I’ve seen in a long time to offer you so much more than just the psychological deconstruction of a character. It’s a film that has to be explored fully and should be talked about in every phase (so I’m trying). Darling also happens to epitomize the artistic flare that’s lacking in modern horror films, lending itself perfectly to black and white, perhaps in a way no other film has (at least in recent times). Keating keeps the cinematography grounded with a picturesque feel but finds a way to keep the viewer feeling like a voyeur. He’s aware of the fact you’re looking at every little thing, hoping to spot something that may be just beyond the frame, that’s when he jolts you by showing you that Darling is watching you as well. The framing in every shot of this film is exquisite, not to mention the variety of shots and their sequencing. A lot of it feels like Hitchcock’s technique of less is more and what you don’t see, or you want to see but can’t, aids in generating that level of fear you want from a horror film. For atmosphere sake, a lot of simplistic shots linger longer than you’d think but it works like a treat, keeping you on edge at every moment. There’s also some great aerial shots as well as some flipped symbolism at the end. The camera work is just one part of it, if you’re looking for intense and frightening imagery, look no further. The flashes are widespread and timed to perfection and the editing is as slick as I’ve seen in any film I can recall.
As the film progressed, I was expecting at some point the technical side of things or continuity might lapse, as it usually does on independent films but that’s not the case here. The lighting was fantastic (some of you are probably thinking what it’s in black and white). I’ve come to learn how crucial it is, especially in this type of experimental project with a touch of film noir about it. Mickey picks all the right spots to give us white light and then ominous shadows, everything is either black or white, aiming to illustrate where Darling’s mindset is at. The score and sound effects are probably the key components driving the film. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of the content too but the sound design alone, is reason enough to watch the film. There’s a classic piano score, reminiscent of any number of Hitchcock’s films and the more demented change ups along the way, create an extremely uneasy feeling for the viewer. From a sound point of view, there’s a constant emphasis placed on a ticking clock in the parlor (maybe representing the ticking of her brain). It’s always going off when she answers the phone, or while she’s navigating the manor. Keating makes something as simple as the ticking of a clock and incessant phone ringing unsettling. If that stuff doesn’t creep you out, several times throughout the film you’ll be caught off guard with nerve jangling and off kilter revelations accompanied by fucked up sounds (pardon the language).
People often talk about style over substance, how that type of thinking can ruin something that otherwise may have had potential. Darling works in big part because of lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter, whom the film ultimately hinges on. Carter’s only given around a dozen lines of dialogue and they’re during the films most important scenes, which don’t happen until about half way in. Meaning for the first half an hour, she has to keep your eyes glued to the screen with only body movement and facial expressions. I remember seeing Lauren early on in Premium Rush (which I dug) and in both, The Woman and Jug Face, where she gave solid performances but I never really got into either film. Well… it’s impossible to not want to watch and be simply blown away by Carter’s performance in Darling. She successfully conveys a variety of emotions, feeding off her characters induced paranoia and showcasing it in a potentially violent way. She goes from polite and inquisitive one moment, to everything seeming like it’s reached boiling point the next. It helps she’s surrounded by Sean Young (briefly), as well as a very solid actor in Morvant. In the end though if she didn’t own it, it would be destined for failure and I can say now with the utmost confidence, Lauren Ashley Carter has delivered the best solo performance you’re likely to see in any independent film for a while. Flawless. On a separate note, I don’t want to spoil any action based details but the practical blood and gore we do get to see looks top-notch as well.
Other than a minor continuity issue with some of the blood spill not appearing where it should have during a subsequent scene, everything else development wise was perfect. There’s some questions raised surrounding the etchings shown throughout the film, presumably they were carved by the cult that’s briefly touched upon early in the film. No clear answers are given but that’s not really a bad thing, just a nit picky plot point people might take issue with. The only complaint one might have of Darling, is its inclination to immediately foreshadow specific revelations regarding the lead character. Each to his own but personally, I was comprehensively drawn to the aesthetics along with the narrative, so much so that even with its suggestive unveiling, nothing could squash the result. Earlier this year, fans of the horror genre were all talking about Robert Eggers film, “The Witch, and in fact they still are. Horror aficionados are calling it the best thing since “Rosemary’s Baby” or Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Much like Darling, it was a film I knew very little about and decided to go and see as part of a film festival. As I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help thinking Eggers wasted such a great opportunity to tell a terrifying story, simply because he wrote a mind numbingly boring script, that progressed at a snail’s pace (apparently nobody else saw that). Coupled with copious amounts of religious subtext, old folklore speak and dead-end plot points, I can’t possibly fathom how people think this is the one film that’s rejuvenated Horror. The Witch is the definition of a film that’s all style and no substance. Its aesthetics are gorgeous and the re-creation of the 1600’s is faithful, heck, even the performances are solid but it’s all a facade to hide the hollow centre. Did it have some tense moments? Sure. Mostly notable because of the brilliant score and definitely not the writing. Was it scary? Hell no. At no point was I on the edge of my seat (apart from that gentle sliding as I found a comfortable nook to rest my eyes, ya know.. because of the boredom and all). Anyways enough about that film.
I really hope people stop talking about “The Witch” and start talking about Mickey Keating’s, “Darling” because it’s an extraordinary piece of film-making that deserves all the accolades. There was a constant sense of nostalgia while watching this one. It’s a true test of the filmmaker to make you feel that way, without you knowing your feeling it. Although it takes cues from a number of films, by the end, I felt it paralleled something like David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”, which is one of my favourite films. The cinematography, the lighting and the sound design are all impeccable. The structure and pacing will keep you glued to the screen and most importantly, the acting from Lauren Carter is the best you’re likely to see from an Actress on the indie circuit. I can’t stress enough the brilliance of this film, it’s the best thing I’ve seen this year and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better. It’s currently playing on ITunes and several other media platforms, keep an eye out for an official release in the future. I now plan to go and check out both of Keating’s other films post-haste, as well as his new one “Carnage Park”.
My rating for “Darling” is 9.5/10