A young woman becomes caretaker of a reputedly haunted house with a sinister history. On her first day she learns that the previous caretaker was driven to suicide on the job. Alone in the house, she begins a slow descent into madness as the lines between reality and perception slowly begin to blur.
So begins Darling, the stylish new horror feature from writer/director/producer Mickey Keating, opening in limited release on April 1. A tidy 80 minutes in length, the film stars indie horror sweetheart Lauren Ashley Carter (The Woman, Jug Face), and features a rare and subtly sardonic cameo appearance by Sean Young (best known for Blade Runner and her insane public campaign to be cast as Catwoman in the ‘90’s).
Carter indisputably owns this film, drawing the focus of every single shot in which she appears with a somber, commanding intensity, underscoring the shock of later moments in which her character loses all control. At first glance her “Darling” is aloof and curious, then sympathetic in the brief moments where her fear is palpable, and finally frightening as the full-on crazy sets in. If this film has any heart to speak of, it lies with Carter’s performance.
That said, style is definitely Darling’s middle name. Roman Polanski’s influence in particular is all over this film–ALL OVER IT. In fact, Keating’s film could easily have been marketed as a modern-day remake of Repulsion (which is the story of an isolated young woman who, when left to her own devices, slowly loses her grip on reality to tragic ends…sound familiar?). The creative use of sound editing: prolonged silences, muted screams, jarring and cacophonic score choice–all similarities to Polanski’s 1965 film. Even the beautifully photographed skylines in the beginning recall the opening credits of Polanski’s 1967 classic thriller Rosemary’s Baby (sans creepy lullaby), another paranoid horror story with a female central character. Like Repulsion, Darling makes vague allusions to a rape-revenge element, yet the film does not divulge enough information about “Darling” herself to allow its audience to come to any conclusions about whether this is real or part of her psychosis. In Repulsion, Catherine Deneuve’s Carol bore a certain sympathy and vulnerability that qualified her detachment from reality; we never get inside Darling’s head enough in the beginning to fully appreciate her madness.
This is absolutely not to say that Darling is not worth your time. It’s a gorgeous film, with plenty of creepy atmosphere and a few good old-fashioned scares to be had. Carter’s tour-de-force performance is worth every penny of admission alone. But if as much attention had been paid to plot development as was paid to style and technical detail, this film would be sheer perfection, and I can’t help but be a bit haunted by what could have been were that the case.