The film DARLING, which just Friday had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, is a tough one. The film itself is excellent technically and features an amazing performance, but it left me feeling slightly hollow. Let me explain.
DARLING begins with a young woman. She (Lauren Ashley Carter) is watching over the house of a wealthy but absent woman (Sean Young). The homeowner warns the young woman of the house’s ancient and recent histories, though the young woman seems unfazed by all this. She is then left alone in the massive home to tend to its basic upkeep. As she begins to hear and see things around the house she begins to wonder if she is making it all up or if she is not really alone.
The film is black and white and absolutely gorgeous. Its framing is engaging but completely still. The camera merely finds the most interesting way for us to observe the world and then stands back for a bit. With the stark black and white each frame is a perfectly composited view of the young woman’s experiences in the house.
The woman either begins to go insane or is encountering the house’s demonic past. In any case, Carter is absolutely brilliant in the role. She is in nearly every scene of the film, and the film would have completed folded under itself had she not given the strong performance here. The best scenes of the film are the ones where the camera rolls on the young woman as she is leading us through a myriad of emotions. Carter unequivocally raises the bar with her performance in DARLING.
Also, it is not often that the sound design of a film stands out from all of the other elements, but in this film the complexity of the sound design sets itself apart from other films. The balance between what is real and what is not real, a strong score and jarring metal song to shake loose the audience expectations, is not an easy one. The sound in Darling totally nails the many levels or reality in DARLING.
This film honestly has nearly everything going for it, but it still comes up slightly short. My issue with DARLING is the fact that I have seen this all before. Had the director (Mickey Keating) introduced the screening as a remake/reboot of Polanski’s REPULSION, I would have believed him. Much of the story, some of the performance, and even a bit of the framing are a direct homage to REPULSION. Keating also name checked FUNNY GAMES and Robert Altman in the post-screening Q&A as other sources for inspiration. While I have no fundamental problem with homage or even pastiche in film, it did strike me that there was not anything original to mention here. With so many clear muses it is difficult for me to identify what Keating brings to the table creatively. He knows film history and is smart enough to know how to draw many different talents from those on his team, but I left the theater not knowing what he wants to say in his films.
I look forward to seeing what other films Keating will release in the future. Assuming he eventually finds his own directorial voice and can keep the quality level of his films high, then that kid is going places.