PrintE-mail Written by Michael Coldwell

Big old houses. On the one hand, great - impress your mates with all that space to spread themselves about, have fantastic parties, loads of room for guests at Christmas and whole rooms to dedicate to various aspects of your science fiction and fantasy collection, including luxurious wooden shelf-space to house all of your copies of STARBURST magazine dating back to 1977. So yes, very cool indeed. But then there’s those nights when you’re all on your lonesome with the whole darned place to yourself and there’s a howling wind outside and strange creaking noises echoing down the stairs…

An unnamed young woman, nervous as a dormouse, arrives at a giant New York mansion said to be the oldest in the city.  She is applying for a job as a Caretaker to the property while the ‘Madame’ of the house is away. All seems well for the appointment, pending references of course, but there’s just that one pesky thing to be imparted; the previous Caretaker committed suicide by hurling herself off the balcony. So not a major issue then.

This is a film student’s nirvana; director Mickey Keating (Carnage Park) clearly loves his Polanski but there are also pungent aromas of De Palma and Kubrick wafting around the piece.  The keyword here is madness; it infests every frame and totally dictates the movie’s style; one only has to see ‘Darling’s googly-eyed interview with the lady of the house (a nice cameo from Sean Young) to clock just how well leading lady Lauren Ashley Carter has nailed the nutter gene.  As well as the obvious parallels with Catherine Deneuve’s peerless turn in Repulsion, there’s a giant kiss to Kubrick’s controversial twist on The Shining; the Overlook is supposed to turn Jack Torrance mad but as soon as we see Jack Nicholson driving up to the hotel we know he’s crazed already.

Keating hit gold when he found the old mansion location for this movie. Originally intended for a more modern setting, plans apparently changed when Lauren Ashley Carter (did we say how good she is in this?) told him about the giant gaff owned by a family for whom she walked dogs. Bingo!  Just as the famous old Bradbury Building transformed the atmosphere of the classic Outer Limits segment Demon With A Glass Hand and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, so this piece of NYC real estate proves a formidable character in its own right; the stuff of nightmares in fact.

Darling is a fun ride if you like your psycho-thrillers spiced with classic influences but could have taken a further tip from Polanski and eased back a notch (or three) on the showmanship. Yes, we dig all the references and the black and white photography is starkly beautiful, but the over-use of jarring synaptic flash-shots  and  garish colour title cards before each portentously-named ‘chapter’ smack of too much time spent tinkering around in post-production. Similarly overcooked is the scenario; with the main character clearly out of her gourd from the off, the bleakly imposing old house is more than enough to trigger the events that follow; the Amityville-style supernatural layer that’s added on feels redundant.

So yes, a more stripped-back, less self-consciously referential film exists under all of the pyrotechnic ‘technique’ on show but this is still an accomplished work anchored by a mesmeric leading performance.


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