Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mickey Keating’s Darling

No question about it, the most dangerous gig in genre cinema is house-sitting. Take for instance this tony brownstone townhouse in Lower Manhattan. The last caretaker committed suicide, plunging head first off the balcony. It has given the stately home a bit of a reputation. However, the new house-sitter might be carrying her on bad vibes as baggage in Mickey Keating’s Darling (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Do not worry about anything you might have heard, her lady-who-lunches boss tells her, before leaving for the season. “Madame” thinks she is lucky to get “Darling” at so short notice, but there might be a reason the skittish young woman was so super-available. At least, she is not likely to throw loud parties. We soon see she is much more inclined to go quietly crazy instead.

Like the Dakota in Rosemary’s Baby (a clear touchstone for Keating), there seems to be something palpably off about this building. The mysterious appearance of an upside-down cross pendant and a heavy looking Latin invocation scratched near the head of Darling’s bed certainly raise our suspicions. The mysterious locked room would seem to be a clincher. However, we should question the validity of everything we see through her POV.

Darling wears its Repulsion influences on its sleeve, but the extra, added demonic elements, a la Rosemary, keep viewers completely off balance and thoroughly creeped out. We are keenly aware both the caretaker and the property have big, messy backstories, but we only get suggestive glimpses of either. Mac Fisken’s severely stylish black-and-white cinematography puts us in the right mind space, making the surroundings look beautiful in an icily hostile kind of way.

Lauren Ashley Carter must have the widest eyes in the business, eclipsing even Amanda Seyfried, but that is perfect for Darling. One minute we think we are looking into the doey eyes of an innocent naïf, but seconds later we are squirming under the piercing stare of a likely psychopath—except maybe not. Somehow, Carter and Keating manage to maintain the uncertainty nearly the entire film (an admittedly brief seventy-eight minutes). Likewise, Brian Morvant is ambiguously destabilizing but always eerily effective in context as either her tormentor or victim. Of course, as a Glass Eye Pix production, there is also a Larry Fessenden cameo to look forward to.

Although the protagonist rarely steps outside of the sinister building, Darling is still a very New York film, sharing a kinship with documentaries like The Wolf Pack. A lot of weird stuff goes on in close proximity to us here, but behind closed doors. Indeed, there is nothing really forcing her to stay, yet she does anyway. After unloading both barrels into Keating’s Carnage Park, it is nice to be able to call out Darling’s considerable merits. (Seriously, Pat Healy’s character is still deeply offensive.) Highly accomplished and deeply unsettling, in the right way, Darling is definitely recommended for discerning horror fans when it opens this Friday (4/1) in New York, at the Village East.