Darling (2015)

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*. For many years I thought I lived in a haunted house, but it didn’t bother me because it was my home and I was the one who was haunting it. Caretakers or renters are in different position, and temporarily moving into a house you’re unfamiliar with is fertile ground for horror since it’s always a scary experience. Hence Deborah Kerr as the new governess in The Innocents (a movie that writer-director Mickey Keating references as an inspiration for Darling), Jack Nicholson taking over the Overlook in The Shining, or George C. Scott renting that mansion in The Changeling. As with the oldest house in New York that Darling is left alone in, these places are all just too damn big for the new person to fit comfortably into.
*. You can hear echoes of these earlier haunted-house flicks in Darling, but the movie I was most reminded of (aside from Repulsion, which is the most obvious influence) was Amer. Like Amer, Darling is a micro-budget exercise in film style, an homage to 1960s psychological horror much as Amer was an homage to the giallo. Both films proceed by way of strong, mannered visuals with almost no dialogue.
*. As with any such picture there’s a lot of ambiguity about exactly what’s going on. Is Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter) just a psycho? Does she actually kill anyone, or does she just imagine it? Is the house haunted? By what? What’s in the room at the end of the hall? And perhaps most of all, what role does Madame (Sean Young), the lady of the house, play? Is she working together with the evil forces in the house to find it new victims? The end credits make us wonder, as she’s shown hiring another girl as caretaker.

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*. How much do those two cops at the end not look (or sound) like cops? That had to be deliberate, but I can’t think of what the point was.
*. I also wonder what the point of the intertitles was. I think they’re meant to be suggestive rather than literal, but I found them off-putting.
*. The oldest house in New York City also appears to be stuck in a time warp. It’s not clear what year we’re in. The artisanal black-and-white photography, Darling’s lace collar, and the old-style telephone all seem to take us back to the early twentieth century.
*. I like black-and-white. Twenty-first century black-and-white has its own specific feel though. The photography here didn’t remind me of anything so much as that in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, with none of the warmth or texture of, say, Gil Taylor’s work in Repulsion. I still like it, and find it effective, but it’s hard not to sense that something has been lost. In a word I’d call that something depth.
*. The problem with homage movies is that they don’t look forward to anything. They don’t break new ground, and they often don’t even address contemporary concerns. Instead they point back to their sources, and given the deliberately historical feel to the setting here I had a hard time figuring out what, if anything, Keating wanted to say about the way we live now. What modern anxieties is he addressing?
*. Is Darling being exploited? There’s no reason to think so. For all its flashes of violence, Darling isn’t an angry movie. The blood cleans up nicely and that body doesn’t even leave a streak on the hardwood as Darling drags it down the hallway.
*. Here’s one go at interpretation: It’s a movie about appearances, about making a solid first impression and being tidy. Also: good help is really hard to find.

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