'Darling' (2016)

© Screen Media Films

Synopsis: A young woman takes a job as caretaker of a mysterious Manhattan mansion that's rumored to be haunted.

Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden

Director: Mickey Keating

Studio: Screen Media Films

MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 78 minutes

Release Date: April 1, 2016

Darling Movie Trailer

Darling Movie Review

In an industry where indie horror is the current belle of the ball, Mickey Keating is an up-and-coming filmmaker of note who's made his mark with small, largely single-setting genre fare like Ritual. His latest such effort is Darling, which seemingly aims to strike while the indie iron is hot by paying homage to slow-burn psychological thrillers of yore, down to its black-and-white film stock.

The Plot

A young woman (Lauren Ashley Carter), referred to only as "Darling" by the wealthy owner (Sean Young) of a Manhattan mansion, is hired as the building's caretaker while the owner is out of town. She's warned about the centuries-old house's reputation for being haunted, inflated recently by the previous caretaker's suicide.

No sooner is she left alone in the creaky old abode than she begins to experience unexplained phenomena: noises, whispering voices, the feeling of being watched. She senses the source of the dark energy lies behind a mysterious upstairs locked room the owner orders her not to enter. As the days pass, she seems to live life in a haze, her mental state devolving by the hour. Is the house driving her crazy, or does the madness come from within?

The End Result

While Keating's debut Ritual tipped its hat to the Satanic thrillers of the '60s and '70s and his follow-up POD had an X-Files-like sci fi vibe, Darling is perhaps his most ambitious effort to date in its attempt to harken back to highly regarded psychological thrillers of yesteryear -- most notably, Roman Polanski's Repulsion. But with great ambition comes great responsibility, and from start to finish, Darling misses its mark, delivering a grating, overwrought dose of desperation.

Keating seems to really want to deliver the next "it" indie horror movie, and on the surface, Darling fits the bill, with its retro black-and-white look, its slow-boiling pace and its art-house ambiguity. But it tries way too hard to force-feed viewers its sense of dread and mental instability, bombarding them with flashing imagery and blaring musical cues (seriously, someone needs to fix the sound mix), as if trying to deliver a jump scare every five minutes without there being anything actually scary on screen. A scene could be comprised of her just staring into thin air (and believe me, that happens quite a bit), but Keating feels the need to punctuate it with flashes of faces (hers or people she knows) and a bombastic, screeching musical score that implies there's something much more exciting than what we're watching.

It comes off as obnoxious and pretentious (not helped by the film's unnecessary separation into "chapters," each complete with its own title card) and ultimately, self-defeating. If everything is treated as if it's shocking, then nothing is shocking. Even for a short, sub-80-minute film, it's a numbing experience.

For a movie to portray someone's downward spiral into madness, shouldn't they at least not seem to be insane from the opening scene? The painfully introverted title character feels like a whacko from the start (granted, that somehow doesn't stop the owner from hiring her sans references), making her journey a short, undramatic one.

It's also a derivative one, adding nothing to the "madness" ilk of genre films that we have haven't seen done better in movies like Repulsion, The Shining and Black Swan. Visually, the black-and-white cinematography is striking, but it quickly loses its edge and is buried by the barrage of clichéd quick cuts and sped-up footage that no less than 100 horror movies before it have used to denote madness and/or haunting.

For all its attempts to startle, the most startling thing about Darling is how off-target this promising director's third feature film is.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C+ (Carter has her moments in what is a one-woman show for long stretches.)
  • Direction: D (An annoying assault on the senses with frustrating sound, from ghostly whispers that are too quiet to a score that's too loud.)
  • Script: D (Ten minutes of plot stretched mercilessly over nearly 80 minutes.)
  • Gore/Effects: C+ (A few brief gory moments.)
  • Overall: D+ (Lacking in scares, plot, and originality.)

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