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Fantastic Fest review: DARLING

Darling_posterThere’s a feeling that comes along once in a while, where you witness a film that just changes things. Those types of films, the ones that not only entertain you, but instantly leave you feeling like you’ve just sat through an absolute masterpiece of technique and style, of directing, acting and of form…they don’t come often. When they do happen, it’s a truly unique experience, and fright fanatics, lovers of film, and anyone else whose eyes might be reading this, let me tell you this with complete sincerity: Mickey Keating’s DARLING is just that type of film.

A shocking, hallucinatory and masterful film, DARLING doesn’t just happen in front of you, it pulls you into the story of a woman who takes on the job of looking after a mansion-like home that may or may not be haunted, and throws you into her complete descent into absolute madness. An homage to all things Polanksi, with equal parts REPULSION and THE TENANT, Keating’s film gives you the title character, played with such explosive ability by Lauren Ashley Carter, and provides you with a flashing light and sound experience that feels so unlike anything from this era of horror, that you can’t help but to smile throughout the entire film.

When we meet Darling, she’s soft spoken and looking forward to the job that’s in front of her, but that softness and her desire to look throughout the house leads her to a room that is locked. When she asks the home’s owner (Sean Young) about the room, she’s told to not worry about the room and to stay away from it. Like any mystery, as a viewer, we, like Darling, are enthralled by what could or could not be behind that door. It’s what we don’t know that drives our thoughts, and when Darling begins to see and hear odd things, like her, we start to believe that something could very well be wrong with the place. We see that paranoia in Carter’s performance, a paranoia that soon leads her mind to a breaking point, when while walking one day, she drops an inverted cross necklace that she found, and she’s frightened by a man alerting her to the fact that she dropped it. “The Man, played by the always great Brian Morvant (POD, THE MIND’S EYE),  is soon stalked by Darling, with her mental descent getting worse and worse, leading to an encounter that pushes Darling over the edge of coming back.

It’s that ability to give his characters and the stories in which they inhabit a realistic tone that really makes Keating’s films so enjoyable. He’s able to provide that realness to his films, and though DARLING is definitely what a typical person goes through, there’s still something about the film that makes its viewerforget that they’re watching a film, it’s more of an experience. A crucial part to DARLING‘s effectiveness, aside from its excellent performances from Carter and Morvant, and the masterful direction of Keating, is in its editing and sound. Those two elements are so impressive, that like Darling or The Man, the sound and editing are important characters within the film. Valerie Krulfeifer’s ability to make DARLING such an impressively cut film speaks wonders on her abilities as an editor, and with how completely insane the film is, she deserves an award for doing such a magnificent job, the same said for sound editor Shawn Duffy. The combination of such intense sound design, frenetic editing, home run directing and Carter’s eye opening performance really sets the film apart from every other film coming out these days.

With the strength of DARLING, it’s now a game for every Fantastic Fest film this year to try to reach that level, but it’s without a doubt, a powerful and hypnotic masterpiece of madness and paranoia that will be quite the task to compete with. Good luck everyone else.