As you may recall, I wrote very positively about the two Mickey Keating films that I’ve seen to date – Pod and Ritual. The former was a tense exploration of psychosis, fear, and family bonds, and the latter showed Keating’s potential as a genre film heavy-hitter. His latest film, Darling, garnered a lot of positive buzz when it hit the festival circuit. Now that it’s widely available on VOD and home video (are we still saying home video?), it’s time to see if it lived up to the (admittedly mild/niche) hype. More specifically, it’s time for me to tell you if I think it lives up to the hype. (i mean, that’s why you’re here, right?)
Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter) takes a job housesitting for a wealthy woman, referred to only as Madame (Sean Young). The house has a bit of a history, as hinted at by Madame and then later speculated upon by a neighbor. It was the site of at least one suicide and possibly housed a satanic cult at one time. Darling even finds a necklace with an upside-down cross charm. Soon, she falls prey to the house’s dark aura / energy / bad shit and starts having hallucinations. She becomes strangely drawn to and fixated upon the locked door at the end of one of the house’s hallways. The same door that she was told by Madame to stay out of. As her visions become more intrusive, Darling starts to lose her grip on reality. It’s enough to drive a young woman over the edge!
Keating has once again shown how agile he is as a director. He’s built a pastiche of 60s psychological horror films – mostly Polanski with a bit of The Haunting thrown in for good measure – with a modern sensibility. The updates are most obvious in the film’s editing and soundtrack. Darling’s visions are relayed through rapid-fire cuts and jarring noises. It’s a supremely effective way of putting the viewer on edge. Especially juxtaposed with the soft, black-and-white photography (which is beautiful) and whispered dialogue of Darling’s sanest moments. Keating steadily builds a sense of dread right from the beginning, with Carter taking on the brunt of that work as the unwavering focal point of the story. She sells her fragile, tortured character well. She has seemingly become a muse for a few indie horror auteurs over the past few years. And the designation is well-deserved. Carter brings an earthy relatability to her roles that instantly puts viewers on her side (whether we should be or not). This works especially well in Darling. The film is strong overall, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Being a pastiche means it has a familiar feel to it and the story is a bit predictable. That’s not necessarily a big drawback though. Although, this could be slightly tedious for some viewers, it could be a ‘favorite sweater’ type film for others. (you know, it’s old/familiar but you love it. especially, if you are a big fan of the source material.) That said, Keating’s fresh perspective should be enough to win most people over to the latter camp.
The Final Cut: Darling is a pastiche of familiar 60s psychological horror films that features a strong lead performance and some genuine dread. Though some may see it as a retread, most viewers will be won over either by nostalgia or by the touches of ultra-modern editing and sound design.