Haunted houses are a part of every city’s urban legend roster. From abandoned shacks to grand old homes, history and personal accounts go hand in hand when it comes to the boogeyman that resides in our mind’s eye. Mickey Keating’s Darling takes this tradition and creates a claustrophobic and harrowing tale guaranteed to evoke some great scares.
Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter) is the newest house sitter for a well-to-do lady, only known as Madame (Sean Young). She is casually warned that this home is the oldest in the city and has its fair share of haunting stories, including the tale of a tragic end of a former caretaker. Reassured that nothing of the sort will happen to her, Darling is given a cheque, a little instruction, and left to care for the rambling Victorian style home by herself. Almost immediately she is unnerved as she starts to hear voices and things that go bump in the night. The discovery of an inverted crucifix necklace and a locked room only add to the uneasiness she feels.
She mentions the room to Madam, when the owner calls to check in, and is told to keep it locked and not concern herself with it. Drawn to the room, and troubled by weird dreams and strange flashes of violent attacks, Darling’s sanity slowly begins to unravel when she encounters a young man on the street with an unusual find related to the house.
One might immediately be reminded of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion or the 1963 The Haunting when viewing the first 30 minutes of Darling. The crisp black and white retro-inspired look, the jarring ringing phone, and her silent terror as things get weirder in the house warrant that comparison. However, there is also a fresh approach to the themes of hauntings and madness. Details such as the subtle flickering of the shutter to represent a blinking eye, the use of strobe lights, and Giona Ostinelli’s score succeed in giving this modern homage an ominous and needling feel. The slow start to the film, as Keating sets up the story in chapter structure, is well worth the wait as the third act of the film is deliciously weird and scary. Without giving away spoilers, the bathroom scenes are so creepy that they gave this jaded “seen it all “horror fanatic goosebumps.
Carter’s performance was, in one word, unsettling. She does a great job of conveying Darling’s implied sense of madness. Her large expressive eyes held you even as her innocence slowly morphed into that of a possessed woman with horrible intentions. Carter’s physicality has to be mentioned as well. She carries out feats of unusual strength that defy her waifish build. It was also nice to see Sean Young of 80’s fame and character actor (and the film’s executive producer) Larry Fessenden pop up in the film.
While Mickey Keating’s previous film, Pod, played with frenetic tension, he displays more sophistication with Darling. He takes the time to flesh out his ideas and characters, which should delight those who have followed his progression as a director. Darling is a must-see for those who want a great performance, jarring scares, and a fresh art-house take on classic themes.