“This film contains flashing lights and hallucinatory images.”
Those words greet the viewer at the start of “Darling,” an intensely creepy, low-budget horror film shot in delightfully appropriate black and white. And yes, there are indeed flashing lights and hallucinatory images.
That’s not what stands out about director Mickey Keating’s film, though. Instead, what’s most noteworthy is how much “Darling” does with so little.
This haunting bit of Polanskian terror is showing at Amherst’s Screening Room Cinema for just one week, from April 29 to May 7. And like “Repulsion,” its obvious touchstone, “Darling” revolves around one extraordinary performance.
Just as it’s hard to imagine Roman Polanski’s nightmarish 1965 classic without Catherine Deneuve, it’s impossible to think of “Darling” without star Lauren Ashley Carter.
The young actress has appeared in a number of unique indie horror films in recent years, most notably “Jug Face” and “The Woman.” Here she plays an unnamed but clearly unhinged young woman who (perhaps unwisely) accepts a job as caretaker of an old mansion in New York City.
Her employer, drolly played by Sean Young, mentions that the house has a violent history, and the young woman quickly appears to evidence issues of her own. Once she comes about a strangely locked door, her mental instability goes to another level.
This is bad news for the rather dopey man (Brian Morvant) she has seen on the street. Eventually she meets him at a bar, and invites him back home; his reaction to her elaborately fearsome abode is one of the film’s rare moments of comedy.
If you’ve seen “Repulsion,” you’ll have a good sense of what’s to come. And while some might call it all setup with no payoff, that’s part of why “Darling” is a fresh study of one individual’s descent into madness. It’s the matter-of-fact intimacy that makes “Darling” so pleasingly disturbing.
There are no real scares, exactly, but certainly memorable jolts, including a particularly grisly scene involving a body, a saw and a cramped bathtub. Only in the film’s final stretch does it begin to lose steam. Keating introduces the only real background info we receive on who this lead character is, and why she’s here.
But rather than add to the proceedings, this information lessens the overall impact. It was far more enticing without the context.
Still, “Darling” is a brisk (just 78 minutes), wonderfully shot treat. And in Carter, the film has a real star turn. Shifting between nervous tension and outright fear to emotional blankness, Carter makes the young woman believably unstable.
Keating’s film does not come close to reaching the heights of “Repulsion,” but this loving homage is nevertheless a gruesome winner.
3 stars (out of four)
Starring: Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant
Director: Mickey Keating
Running time: 78 minutes
Rating: Unrated, but R equivalent for violence and nudity.
The lowdown: A lonely young woman takes a job at a large mansion in New York with a dark history, and soon descends into madness.