Take a moment to consider how wide and expansive the horror genre has become. We’re no longer limited to a standard haunted house flick or tale of demonic possession. We don’t have to sit through one mindless killing after another with seemingly interchangeable teenagers or countless gore-filled zombie terrors. Horror filmmakers are evolving, and they’re figuring out ways to blend the various properties of our beloved genre into something fresh and exciting. At least, the good ones are. I consider writer/director Mickey Keating to be on the forefront of this new age of horror. He has demonstrated an uncanny ability to produce films that feel classic, yet modern all at once. His work is ripe with imperfect characters facing extraordinary events at the most inopportune of times, and in that regard, DARLING is no different. But what separates this surrealistic throwback from the pack is its approach.
DARLING follows a young woman who has recently taken a job as a caretaker. The film opens with the girl (simply referred to as Darling) accepting the position before being left alone with the monstrosity of a home — but this is no ordinary house. The property owner sheepishly informs Darling that the previous caretaker committed suicide here. As the film progresses we get glimpses of a deeper history involving the maniacal mansion, but they’re only glimpses. DARLING is the type of film that makes you work for your answers — and if that’s not something you’re into — I can’t imagine you’ll enjoy your time with this one. Me personally? I love that shit.
In case you’re unaware, DARLING is filmed entirely in black and white. It’s also shot in a 1:1.66 aspect ratio reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s early works. It’s a nice nod to the horrors of the 1960s without being too “on the nose”. It’s not entirely clear what time frame our story occurs in, and while I’m sure that’s intentional, it’s not all that important. The overarching feeling of loneliness is what stands out above all. Lauren Ashley Carter (Darling) looks as if she has a million different thoughts running through her had at any given second. She comes off as troubled, and we aren’t exactly sure why. As events begin to occur in the home, you can never be quite sure as to what is real and what is simply in the rapidly deteriorating mind of Darling. The film excels in that particular area.
Unfortunately, even for a film with a refreshingly short 1hr 12min run time, we get off to what I’m sure will be considered a relatively slow start by most. Darling’s initial exploration of the home is largely uneventful. There are some ominous noises and one peculiar discovery in particular, but I never found myself lost in the moment. And believe me — I was trying. Perhaps the opening 20 minutes of the film will bear more fruit upon a second viewing (and I intend to find out), but just know that we aren’t sprinting towards the finish line here. It’s a slow ride, so take it all in. It’s not until the film’s 3rd “chapter” that things begin to get truly bizarre.The plodding scenes of exploration are replaced with uncomfortable dialog and graphic violence. Sharp and stuttered visuals begin to stab your retinas like hundreds of little daggers. It’s intense and serves as a reminder that everything is not alright. Be it the house or Darling herself — something is very wrong here, but what the hell is it?
The fact the DARLING‘s mystique is it’s greatest and weakest attribute is a bittersweet realization. There are answers to be had here; whispered in hushed tones and in handwritten scribbles — they’re there. But the fact that a great deal of the film’s mystery is left unexplained will undoubtedly rub a lot of people the wrong way. That said, I’m not so sure this is a film for people of that mindset. If that sounds like you (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing), then I suppose you have read all that you need to read. But if you find yourself intrigued by these words, then I urge you to watch DARLING at your earliest convenience. It’s a journey into depravity, and a good one at that.
Darling is available in limited theaters on 4/1/2016 and VOD platforms on 4/8/2016.
DARLING is the type of film that makes you work for your answers — and if that’s not something you’re into — I can’t imagine you’ll enjoy your time with this one. Me personally? I love that shit. It’s a journey into depravity, and a good one at that.