Posted at the outset of Mickey Keating’s (Pod) horror film is the warning “This film contains flashing lights and hallucinatory images,” and it must be given credit for making good on its word. Featuring a tremendous performance by Lauren Ashley Carter as the newly hired caretaker of an old-world New York City mansion who goes bonkers (what, she never saw The Shining?), Darling is a stylishly audacious effort that, while it may be a bit too rarified for general horror fans, signals its director as a talent to watch. The film is being showcased in the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies series and is scheduled for a theatrical release via Screen Media Films early next year.
Actually, the film’s most obvious influence is not the Stephen King novel/Stanley Kubrick film but rather Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, with more than a touch of The Tenant thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, Darling‘s all too evident derivativeness feels less like homage than rip-off.
But as rip-offs go, it’s a well-done, memorable one. The film begins in deliciously tantalizing fashion when a young woman (Carter) is employed as a caretaker by the older “Madame” (Sean Young, always fun to see) who casually mentions that the last person who took the job jumped off the building’s balcony to her death.
Darling, as her employer calls her, is then left alone with far too much time on her hands as she wanders through the lavishly appointed environs and begins to crumble mentally. She becomes even more unhinged when she comes upon a room with a locked door that she cannot open. Eventually she decides to take a break from the apartment’s confines and stop by a local bar, where she meets a man (Brian Morvant) who eagerly accepts her offer to come home with her. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t work out well for him.
The scenario is simple to the extreme, but writer/director Keating provides enough stylistic flourishes to keep it interesting (the brief 75 minute running time doesn’t hurt). Divided into chapters with such headings as “Demon,” “Inferno” and “Thrills!!!,” the film is shot in starkly beautiful black & white with elegant camera compositions. The arresting sound design and discordant musical score further contribute to the ominous atmosphere.
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Carter, her eyes widening to impossible degrees, delivers a powerful, near-solo performance that firmly anchors the spooky proceedings. Often staring directly into the camera like a malevolent Bambi, she’s a hypnotic presence who is likely to inhabit your nightmares afterwards.
Production: Glass Eye Pix, Alexander Groupe
Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden, Helen Rogers, John Speredakos
Director/screenwriter: Mickey Keating
Producers: Sean Fowler, Mickey Keating, Jenn Wexler
Executive producers: Lauren Ashley Carter, Larry Fessenden
Director of photography: Mac Fisken
Editor: Valerie Krulfeifer
Composer: Giona Ostinelli
Not rated, 75 min.