Mickey Keating can't stop. The writer/director stunned SXSW audiences this spring with his X-Files-influenced horror Pod, he's debuting his latest feature, Darling, at Fantastic Fest, and he's already in post-production on his next project, Carnage Park. He said, "Honestly, man, I just love making movies, and when I'm not making movies, I'm panicking."
Shot in black and white, and in 1:1.66 ratio as a deliberate homage to Repulsion and Stanley Kubrick's early work, Keating describes Darling as "a Sixties-style descent into madness." It follows the title character (Lauren Ashley Carter, Pod, Jug Face) as she takes the job of caretaker in a Manhattan apartment, only to discover there's something far more sinister lurking in the Upper East Side than roaches and rats. "I love films about loners," Keating said, and while Darling may be geographically distant from the rural isolation of Pod, they are still connected. He said, "What we really tried to capture was this isolated, ghostly sensibility in a place where there are millions and millions of people at any corner."
Carter isn't the only Pod alumnus here, with co-stars Brian Morvant and Larry Fessenden making the trip to the Big Apple. The reason for their casting was simple: Keating had a great experience working with them the first time. "It seemed like some magical occurrence, so while we're waiting for sound mix, while we're waiting for a composer, let's go make another film."
Some might find that quick turnaround daunting, but Keating pointed to the inspiration of John Cassavetes, who poured his own savings into Faces, or Sam Fuller, who shot the revolutionary Shock Corridor in 10 days. Confronted by that work ethic, he said, "It's hard for me in my mind to make up an excuse and not be inspired. ... If there's a way for me to tell a story that makes sense in whatever box I'm currently confined in, I'll find a way to make it work."
Add Fessenden to the list of influences. Aside from acting, he's also a respected writer, director, and producer, and widely seen as the patron saint of indie horror. Keating acknowledges a huge debt, both creatively and careerwise. As a college student, he found the number for Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix production house in a press release, cold-called, and ended up with two summers of internships, "watching and observing and doing whatever they needed for me to do." Calling his time there "a tremendously valuable learning experience," he said that for aspiring young filmmakers, "Glass Eye Pix stood as a mecca; you can make art, you can make your independent films, you can tell your offbeat stories."
The trio of Fessenden, Cassavetes, and Fuller weren't the only independently minded auteurs that inspired Keating. During the editing of Pod, he immersed himself in the work of experimental filmmakers Hollis Frampton and Stan Brakhage, and their aesthetics seeped into his own approach to storytelling. He describes that as a reaction to too many contemporary indie horrors that feel like "pseudo-studio films on a smaller budget. You don't see that kind of freedom and enthusiasm with editing and experimentalism that you got in the Sixties and Seventies."
Darling screens Friday, Sept. 25, 5:20pm, and Thursday, Oct. 1, 1:30pm.
Fantastic Fest 2015 runs Sept. 24 through Oct. 1 at the Alamo South Lamar. Fest badges are sold out, but often during the festival, individual tickets for films will open up, so patient and intrepid Austinites still have a chance to sample the wide array of films on offer. See www.fantasticfest.com for more info.
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