Driven by a woman’s unraveling sanity, Mickey Keating’s Darling is a twisted exploration of paranoia and madness, entirely built around tension and mystery. It begins as a lonely young woman moves into an old, mysterious Manhattan home. Hired as a caretaker, it’s not long before she discovers the estate’s haunted reputation and troubling past.
Darling, led by horror starlet Lauren Ashley Carter, is a very short film clocking in at just 78-minutes—it’s a running time that puts the film on its heels almost immediately, essentially starting its story a third of the way through before we know much of anything about its main character, Darling. And while there’s some power behind being thrown into this woman’s nightmare without much setup, it’s hard to really connect with her character, or even figure her out.
The film starts with Darling moving into an old home as its caretaker. Darling, who we really don’t know anything about, seems distant and quiet as she meanders through the strange property before finding a locked door at the end of a hallway. She’s told to leave the door locked at all times, that the room is forbidden. So, of course, she becomes fixated on that little door and what lies behind it. This is where the film starts to take a turn, pouring on a palpable sense of paranoia and madness—either Darling is going crazy or something has taken over her mind.
Shot entirely in black and white, Keating’s psychothriller is gorgeously realized and drips with the same nightmarish atmosphere as old school Roman Polanski. The problem, however, is that all the atmosphere in the world can’t make up for a severely underdeveloped character, especially when that character is the only one carrying the film. It is a very short film so I can see why Keating opted to jump right into this crazy little world he created, even if it meant leaving Darling’s backstory a mystery—but because her character is so thin, it’s hard to distinguish if she’s actually going crazy or if that’s just the type of person she is. This makes it hard to buy into everything the movie is trying to tell us, making it’s one and only hiccup the film’s biggest flaw.
Despite that, I thought the film really came to life thanks to Carter’s phenomenal performance. She carries this monster behind her eyes in a quiet and powerful manner, and it really drives the film. There’s very little dialog in the entire film, making her performance even more mesmerizing as she quickly loses her mind and falls into a dark hole of violence and madness. There’s a lot in Darling that is simply great—a visual aesthetic that’s often stunning, masterfully built tension, and one of the best performances we’ve seen this year give Keating’s latest a uniquely creepy quality, despite its flaws.