Mickey Keating’s (Ritual, Pod) newest film Darling had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest this weekend, and it was a trip. Inspired by films such Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant with a little bit of David Lynch’s Eraserhead thrown in, Darling tells the story of one woman’s (Lauren Ashley Carter, Jug Face, Pod) descent into total insanity during the course of its brief 78-minute runtime.
Darling (we never learn her actual name) has recently taken a job housesitting for Madame (Sean Young, Blade Runner, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective). Right before Madame leaves, she informs Darling that the previous woman in her position threw herself off the balcony with no explanation whatsoever. Darling still accepts the job, and everything seems to be going along swimmingly, until Darling discovers a locked room that she doesn’t have a key for. From there, Darling takes hold of its audience and never lets go.
Shot over the course of 12 days, Darling is a stunning achievement in editing and sound design from the always-working Keating (seriously, the guy churns out films like he’s his own one-man assembly line). The film is very stylized and is beautiful, yet simplistic in its visuals. There is even a tag before the film starts warning viewers about the presence of flashing lights and hallucinatory images in the film, automatically instilling a sense of paranoia in the audience that we share with Darling.
Shot entirely in black and white, the film is simply gorgeous to look at. The empty streets of New York City and lonely hallways of the house look even more desolate without color. It was a bold decision, but it pays off in spades. I had trouble figuring out exactly what time period the film was set in, as it really looks like it’s set (and shot) in the 60s, but a date of birth on a character’s driver’s license revealed that Darling is actually set in the present.
Brian Morvant shows up for a bit as a potential suitor for Darling, and Larry Fessenden has a cameo as a policeman. Both are good in their brief roles, but the true star of the film is Lauren Ashley Carter. Alone for much of the film’s runtime, she commands the screen and brings you along for the ride. We are never entirely sure if what she is seeing is real, but you don’t really care since she is mesmerizing to watch.
Brian Morvant shows up for a bit as a potential suitor for Darling, and Larry Fessenden has a cameo as a policeman. Both are good in their brief roles,
Some viewers may be put off by the ambiguity of the film, but it’s not frustratingly ambiguous like some other films at Fantastic Fest (see: Demon). It is a film that is meant to spark conversation, and that is definitely something that it accomplishes. Darling may not provide any easy answers, but it is a trippy, hypnotic ride through the mind of a woman who is slowly losing it.