Thursday, May 5, 2016


When a moviemaker takes on the oldest of horror film clichés – the young woman alone in the creepy house – he’s either planning to do something new and spectacular with it, or he’s just  lazy. After watching Mickey Keating’s Darling, I’m now convinced that a director can be both innovative and a dullard. There’s nothing wrong with recycling a formula – I’d guess that Hollywood has been doing it since at least 1915 (and whoever thought that pirate movies would make a comeback?) – but despite some radiant cinematography and peculiar lighting effects, Keating doesn't do much that is new with Darling. Most shameful of all, he ends it on a predictable note that might have been yanked from an old episode of Night Gallery.  

Keating, who undoubtedly has some style and talent, exemplifies a problem with many new directors.  He and cinematographer Mac Fisken shoot some delicious scenes, using a grim black and white to create some haunting cityscapes – Manhattan hasn’t looked so sinister since Rosemary’s Baby -  and Keating is ambitious enough to throw a curve into the story (the movie about a single woman in a spooky location dissolves into a movie about an isolated figure’s “descent into madness,” one genre shading easily into the other)  but he can't tell a story and hasn’t created any compelling characters. The young woman known as Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter) who comes to housesit for a woman known as Madam (played with snooty flair by Sean Young) is a stick figure created so Keating can play with her, and have her “go crazy,” because to a young moviemaker, “going crazy” is really all you need.

Poor Darling. She’s one of those unfortunate young women who seems to attract bad stuff into her life. When we meet her she’s suffered some serious personal and financial setbacks and hopes Madam will let her stay at her old Brownstone. But once she gets the gig, Madam's home starts to spook her. It’s traditional stuff – unexplained noises, locked doors to mysterious rooms – and she walks around the place the way that actresses do. I don’t think she was actually clutching a candle while she walked up a flight of stairs, but I remember her doing it that way, like frightened women have always done in horror movies. As Giona Ostinelli’s chilling score plays, Keating focuses on items around the estate - pieces of furniture, jewelry boxes– trying to give these objects portentous weight. Yet, we don’t wonder what we’d do in Darling’s situation. Instead, we wonder what people in other scary movies have done.

Madam had warned Darling that something terrible had happened to the previous caretaker, and Darling senses that something nasty lurks behind a locked door at the end of a hallway. But guess what? We never find out what's behind the door. You see, halfway through the movie Darling goes to a bar and meets a guy, a likeable lug played by Brian Morvant. She’s seen him around town and has been spying on him. You’d think she was busy enough in her eerie mansion, but no. After a sort of anxiety attack in the ladies’ room, she brings him home. He recognizes the place, and tells about the horrific things that have happened there. And then we’re off the old dark house scenario and into a splatter flick, complete with bathtub dismemberment.

There’s something hokey and sophomoric about the gory scene that comes next. Keating probably conceived it as the film’s centerpiece, and was undoubtedly quite proud of himself for fooling the audience – they thought they were getting a quiet, moody horror flick, and now it’s a violent bloodbath. But even the Grand Guignol scene feels like artsy fluff. Carter, who served as a producer on the film and must enjoy appearing in horror movies (she’s been in several), climbs into the tub with her victim, almost gets crushed under his weight, and then spends several minutes cutting him into pieces. Then we see her wiping blood from the crime scene, and wrapping up her victim’s body parts in little plastic bags. She’s a gamer, that’s for sure. A minor, uninteresting plot twist follows the murder, but it doesn't lift the movie out of its second act lethargy. Strange that the more blood is shed, the duller this thing gets. Keating’s signature lighting effect, which looks like someone is flicking the on/off switch of a fluorescent light to create a strobe effect, becomes monotonous. He could’ve saved on the budget by instructing viewers to blink their eyes quickly when Carter came on screen.

Carter reminds me of Wendy Malick, though much smaller, as if a scientist had tried to clone Malick and left something out. Carter’s not a bad actress, but there’s nothing for her to do in the movie, aside from looking scared, crying a bit, and stabbing the shit out of a guy. She’s not  playing a person, just acting out a bunch of stylized horror movie poses: shy and awkward; frightened; vengeful; and on and on. You don’t realize how mannered she is until Morvant arrives. He acts in a more naturalistic style, and I wish he’d been a bigger part of the story. As for Sean Young, she apparently prepared for her role by watching a bunch of old Eve Arden movies.

Darling has a nightmare after the murder, and it’s probably the best scene in the movie. But even at a modest 78 minutes, Darling begins to feel sluggish. By the the movie’s second half, I was yearning for the first half, which hadn’t been anything special, but it looked great. Manhattan at night, its lonely, lifeless buildings looking like neglected relics left over from antiquity, seemed like it had a story to tell. I wish someone had told it.


No comments:

Post a Comment