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“DARLING” (Scary Movies Review)

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When I was 24, I spent a month housesitting a mansion in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I was a young single girl, and despite having lived in or around New York most of my life, I had never really done so alone. The house spoke; it creaked and groaned with the cold. One night I couldn’t sleep, and I found myself curiously testing out the grand piano in the foyer at 3 a.m. The keys were dusty and the notes flat and mournfully out of tune—I felt a chill run through me.

While watching DARLING, that feeling rushed back. At face value, it’s an easy story to explain, yet DARLING (playing the Scary Movies festival at New York City’s Lincoln Center tonight) is a film reliant on the feeling it evokes, and expressing that in mere words is much more difficult to accomplish. The eponymous heroine is a young woman (Lauren Ashley Carter) who has been hired to look after an old New York City apartment house. Brought in at the last minute after the prior girl refused the position due to the place’s history, Darling wanders the halls late into the night, paranoid and scared.

A Glass Eye Pix production, complete with Larry Fessenden cameo, DARLING is a true New York movie, shot around the city. The location footage is extremely disorienting, leaving you unable to pinpoint exactly where the events are taking place, even if you’re a resident. And the homages in the filmmaking are unmistakable; DARLING showcases a palette rich in Roman Polanski (who essentially invented the Manhattan horror film with ROSEMARY’S BABY) with a finish of Abel Ferrara. Writer/director Mickey Keating is a filmmaker’s filmmaker, happy to display his influences and clearly caring very deeply about understanding and making use of the cinematic language in his work.

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But is DARLING scary? Yes. It’s unsettling, distressing and mesmerizing. You know something ominous is happening in this space just by watching Darling herself. She is in almost every frame of the film; there are other people around, but they seem to only exist to threaten her. Even if it’s hard to engage with the character, as she almost comes across as an apparition on screen, DARLING holds your attention. What the film lacks in terms of fleshed-out characters, it makes up for in psychotropic eeriness. The intensity of the stark visuals and audio have an almost hallucinogenic effect at times, and even shot on digital video, the contrasting blacks and whites have a strange beauty to them.

The sound, however, often becomes the true star of DARLING, masterfully layered and designed. Notes recur throughout scenes, and the sound of a body falling is recycled to draw you back emotionally to previous tense, confusing moments. DARLING demands your attention, and should really be viewed in a theater, or at least a theater-like setting (it will be playing other fests, including the Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival in upstate New York later this month, before going into general release next year from Screen Media Films).

Keating demonstrates in DARLING an ability to work fast and on a small budget. Young and dedicated, he has improved dramatically since his previous feature POD, and has a clear, determined enthusiasm for the genre. He’s already at work on another movie, CARNAGE PARK, and it’s evident there will be many more after that—which, on evidence of DARLING, is worth looking forward to.

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About the author
Madeleine Koestner
Madeleine Koestner is a writer, filmmaker and performer. She plays a ukulele and sings songs about ghosts in small venues in New York City. She likes beer, synthesizers and movies about death games. Sometimes Madeleine does special FX makeup and gore for low-budget horror movies. You can follow her on twitter @DVDBoxSet, but do so at your own risk, as she's really weird and inappropriate.
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