From its opening establishing shot of a fog-filled New York City skyline, Mickey Keating’s Darling signifies itself as an inventive horror film. Lauren Ashley Carter plays the eponymous character, hired to house sit an old house. Sean Young (who is only in the film briefly) plays her employer and lets slip that the last caretaker committed suicide. It is a tale we have heard many a time before (there are obvious parallels to Stephen King’s/Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining) and plays out in much the same way: mysterious sounds, doors slamming, an ominous locked door at the end of a hall. Yet, the film is nuanced and calculated in its approach and tone.
Darling pairs its captivating black and white visuals with jarring inserts of alternate film frames. The miliseconds of flashing light are accompanied by music stings to keep its audience on edge throughout. It’s effective, but almost feels, at times, like a cheat to keep the tension high. While I don’t feel it was over-used, I will admit that it seemed to happen each time my attention began to wander.
One place where I feel that Darling shines is that, often in haunted house movies, I find myself screaming at the main character for acting irrationally, for not noticing the signs that surround them that they are in an unsafe place. Lauren Ashley Carter’s character has the perfect reasons for staying in the house, though to say any more might reveal too much about the plot. Carter portrays Darling’s descent into madness (a la Polanski’s Repulsion) with such a full-tilt devotion to it that it is thrilling and frightening to behold.
During one interlude, Carter’s character goes out for the night to find some company. The extreme close-ups of her applying her lipstick and mascara was as torturous as just about anything else depicted in the film. The way that Keating’s lens lingered on the perfectly made-up and poised Carter in one scene reminded me somewhat of Hitchcock’s much-beleaguered heroines. When Darling manages to find a guy, her charm disappears immediately and the scenes transforms from awkwardly funny to devastatingly brutal.
Another major appeal of Darling is its score and sound editing. While used, to great effect, to set your teeth on edge, it also keeps the tension high. Certain parts of the house come with their own sound cues. For instance, in the foyer, there ticking clock that nearly drowns out all other sound with its mechanical might be running just a little too fast When Darling does leave the house, to get groceries, or go to a bar, the deeply unsettling mood follows her, in the music and the camera work. There is no respite from the manor even when it is not physically present.
While the rapid cuts and shrieking noises are neither my cup of tea, nor what I look for in a horror film I can agree that it works. So, while I cannot say that I enjoyed Darling, I can praise it for attempting to be unique.