Darling is a movie delightfully full of itself. It’s the type of film that would prove anyone who finds arthouse movie making obnoxiously pretentious more correct that I’m comfortable admiring. Yet, Darling is so good at what it does, that I can forgive it for going somewhat too far in its dazzle.
We follow the titular Darling who has accepted the role as a live-in caretaker of a mansion that may or may not be haunted. Stories of occult experiments in the house run rampant around the neighborhood. Soon after moving, Darling starts having visions of violence and abuse, maybe from her past, maybe from her future, and her grips of reality start rapidly slipping.
The plot is seemingly straightforward, while the execution decidedly is not. If you’ve seen a video installation at a modern art museum, that is pretty much what you get here. There are ambient noises abound and highly stylized steadicam shots, all (of course) presented in black and white. The aesthetics are striking, with echoes of an experimental Hitchcock and sixties French cinema. It’s something a young David Lynch could have produced; maybe even an older David Lynch, going by episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return.
There might also be a bit too much of a good thing. Even at 78 minutes, the story ends up slogging through sections of beautiful sceneries. That is too bad, as when more substantial plot points do get pushed through, they are as captivating as the slower showboating. The balance isn’t quite where it should be, and an otherwise disturbingly slow, creeping story sometimes stops in its tracks.
When it does move, it is effective, and time and place and who is who get thrown into question. At its most successful, the Darling is an unsettling story, helped well along by Lauren Ashley Carter as the titular character. (And Sean Young has a small role, too, which was a welcome surprise.)
There is a great movie somewhere inside Darling, but the visual wizardry keeps some of it locked inside. That can be exasperating, but Darling is still a very good movie. If you’re a fan of modern art and striking aesthetics, it is a must watch all the same.