Written by: Daniel McDonald
Directed by: Mickey Keating
Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant
WELL folks it’s finally happened. I’m sitting here replaying scenes from a film quite specific, yet totally open to interpretation. Designed, filmed and especially edited within an inch of its life, yet having an unknowing, deeply unsettling feeling of not knowing what and why is it happening, that leaves the viewer asking that maddening question, “why am I not sure?”
Mickey Keating’s previous project, the sci-fy psychological thriller POD, tread some of this same cinematic ground, but nowhere near the extent that this gorgeously shot B&W stunner (courtesy of cinematography by Mac Fisher) dares to venture. Pod‘s first 3/4 left me wondering several things about the sanity and reality of its protagonists condition, then in its final 1/4 answered all of these questions with an “… oh, yeeeaaahhh…” somewhat satisfying answer.
Darling on the other hand’s first 3/4, had me feeling that I had a firm, if yet fairly conventional grasp on who, what, where and why, the story was going only to astound me by the lengths it let its central character behave and then in its final 1/4, left me to my own interpretive devices as several of its forgone conclusions were left maddeningly unanswered.
From the beginning, Darling has a wonderfully sleek look, an almost obsessive use of shapes ( never have so many types of squares, rectangles and circles caught my and pleased my eye, without distracting me from the narrative ) and texturally defining elements been used so effectively. The feeling that Keating was using familiar to the use background imagery, to pull us into a false sense of security and awareness, so that later the foreground “off the rails,” kinetic imagery ( put on narrative steroids by Valerie Kulfafer’s gotcha flash editing ) has an even more visceral, unsettling effect on us.
In every way you feel Keating has made exactly the film he wanted to make (as writer, co-executive producer along with leading lady Lauren Ashley Carter and director) his vision or perhaps mission is confidently, assuredly displayed throughout this 80 minute trip into madness.
Speaking of Miss Carter, she carries the weight of a basically solo film performance as the new caretaker of a supposedly “haunted” New York townhouse, giving an absolutely first rate, star making turn that we got a glimpse of in Pod, but she takes to an entirely riveting, daring new level here.
Her Pod costar Brian Morvent, seen to great, charming effect here, is unfortunately the focal point of Darling’s manipulations, due to a previous event that happened between them in the past…or did it? It was wonderful to see Hollywood stalwart Sean Young as Madam, the kind, brusquely efficient initiator of Darling’s journey, offering friendly advice and a warning regarding the suicide of the building’s previous caretaker in an unusually casual positive manner…or is it?
The fact that Keating’s sure handed skill recalls Polanski’s classic, Repulsion is a compliment of the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” kind. Using an effectively colorful sore by Giona Ostenelli, Keating’s choice of having several sequences featuring only the sounds made by the actions on-screen gives them a stronger impact. The entire film seems to keep evolving from fever dream bizarre, to psychological deterioration melodrama again and again.
Darling is a challenging, ultimately gruesome film to watch, and there is the possibility of confusion of those damned non-answered questions. Personally I find these choices invigorating, allowing my own personal opinion of the answers to involve me to a level I never imagined. As it turns out a former student of mine recently worked on Keating’s new release Carnage Park. If the growth of Keating’s vision and skills from Pod to Darling continues to grow exponentially, I welcome new projects with enthusiastic anticipation… I’m just saying…