2016, NR, 78 min. Directed by Mickey Keating. Starring Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden, John Speredakos, Helen Rogers.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., April 15, 2016
Much ink (some actual, mostly digital) has been spilled on whether a cultural property that refers back to other, earlier cultural properties, and incorporates aspects of those cultural properties into this new cultural property, constitutes, on the one hand, an homage, or on the other, a downright rip-off. The party line seems to indicate that if the creator openly acknowledges the influences of the past, then it’s the former; keeping your mouth shut about it invariably leads to accusations of theft. But the reality (as far as we can say that word when talking about people who have opinions on such things on the Internet) is this: Did you like this new thing? Then it’s an homage. Not so much? That’s a goddamn rip-off, man. That’s really what this conversation has boiled down to, because being influenced by things has been going on since, well, forever. It’s the subjectivity of the viewer (and, I suppose, the critic) that makes that increasingly inane decision, especially when coupled with views on authenticity, which is now a code word for “I knew this first.”
Which brings us to Darling, Mickey Keating’s homage (he has ’fessed up) to the “woman goes crazy” subgenre, advanced mostly by Roman Polanski and Ingmar Bergman in the Sixties, but with this and Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth, appears to be mildly trending with indie filmmakers, apparently. Darling tells the story of the titular character (never named, but completely embodied by the hypnotic Lauren Ashley Carter), who has taken a job looking after the house of Madame (Young) while she’s away. Things start going bump in the night, and we’re not entirely sure that Darling is all there. The film offers elliptical hints as to what evil may or may not be lurking in the house, a four-story set designer’s dream. Is it the history of devil-worshipping, or perhaps the fact that the last caretaker jumped to her death and Darling has flashes of doing the same? And what exactly is behind that locked door at the end of the hallway? Keating keeps his cards close, a common conceit of the films he’s referencing: Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Innocents, Persona, just to name a few. Does he succeed? You’d better believe it. Carter’s performance is the star of the film, but between the sound design and the framing of shots, to the sustained tension of dread, Keating has crafted an intriguing, micro-budget pastiche of those aforementioned films. Are we the sum total of our influences? Absolutely not. Those influences bounce and live and seep into our brain. To put it another way, is a loaf of bread the sum total of its ingredients? Of course not, because that would taste horrible. Thankfully, Keating is a wonderful baker, and I can’t wait to see what’s next out of the oven.