Archive for July 21, 2016

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On the one hand, it’s sort of easy to slag writer/director Mickey Keating’s 2015 indie horror offering Darling as a pretentious, overly-self-conscious, hopelessly derivative knock-off of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion with, sadly, no trace of Catherine Deneuve in sight. In fact, if we get right down to brass tacks here, it’s more than fair to say this film is, at its core, simply an uncredited remake of that earlier — and admittedly superior — work.

On the other hand, though, that’s giving pretty short shrift to what Keating actually has managed to accomplish here, which is to craft a visually stunning, intensely moody, deliriously provocative, and painfully believable tale of a young woman’s descent into madness that, while being far from original, is certainly harrowing and memorable enough in its own right.

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Shot — as its predecessor was — entirely in black and white, Darling follows the downward spiral of its titular character (played by Lauren Ashley Carter, who delivers a truly gutsy performance) after she accepts a job house-sitting at a clinically austere New York mansion with something of a foreboding history. Dialogue is often sparse and extreme close-ups are the order of the day as we follow Darling from room to room, each door-opening and even footstep rife with tension and import. On a purely surface level, sure, there’s not much going on — but just beneath that surface, shit, there’s a veritable cauldron of apprehension brewing that threatens to boil over at any moment. The house is obviously haunted as shit from the outset, but the film’s deliberate snail’s pace ensures that each piece of evidence we receive to support that pre-determined conclusion, no matter how small, is weighted with near-otherworldly significance. The spirit of the home’s former devil-worshiping owner (Sean Young in a too-brief but welcome appearance) looms large over much of what’s happening here, but for the most part this is a very solitary character study that adopts a very insular and claustrophobic feel despite the fact that so many of its sets are, indeed, quite vast. Carter has to absolutely kill it in her role because, apart from a few other folks drifting in and out for specific plot purposes (the most notable of which being Brian Morvant as “The Man”) she’s literally it — and as her mental condition deteriorates you feel frightened both of and for her in equal measure. If you’re into spending a lot of time inside somebody’s mind, this is going to be right up your alley — if not, well, bail out quick before you go fucking crazy yourself.

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Another bunch that might want to take a pass on this one are those folks who either need answers or who appreciate, at the very least, a nice, tidy ending. Darling offers none of that and counts on you to fill in many of its numerous blank spaces for yourself. As our “heroine” finally cracks she may (or may not) do something that’s so damn diabolical that her mind would snap if it were still actually functioning, but by this point what’s “real” and what’s feverish hallucination can’t truly be discerned and you’re left entirely up to your own devices when it comes to determining what’s actually taking place and what isn’t — or, for that matter, if the distinction between the two even matters anymore.

To me, that’s a sure sign of good psychological horror even if, again, it’s not particularly original psychological horror. And that’s probably why this film — which is now available on Netflix (which is how I caught it) as well as on Blu-ray and DVD — is garnering a bit of “buzz” around it. Certainly all of the core concepts, conceits, and visual trappings of Darling are borrowed and/or swiped, but you just don’t see many films of this type anymore, and for that reason it feels like a breath of fresh air in the contemporary horror landscape. Even if, strictly speaking, it isn’t.

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Obviously, though, Keating’s film is going to alienate at least as many folks as it enraptures, for reasons already stated. I’ll assure you of this much, however, without the slightest little bit of  hesitation — if this sounds like your cup of tea, then it absolutely is, and you’re going to love every taut, terrifying second of this stylish throwback. Somewhere in Poland, I like to think, Roman Polanski is smiling — deviously, of course, but appreciatively.

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One thing I’m kind of digging about Hulu these days is that you can find a decent number of really low-budget, truly “indie” horror flicks on there (the rights to which were probably secured at sub-fire sale prices) that Netflix wouldn’t touch in a million years. Granted, most of these are every bit as amateurish as you’d expect, but that doesn’t always mean that they’re necessarily bad. Case in point : director Andy Palmer’s Colorado-lensed 2014 effort, Find Me.

This is obviously a get-some-friends-together-in-front-of-the-camera affair, given that co-stars Cameron Bender and Kathryn Lyn are credited as co-screenwriters along with Palmer himself, and as ghost stories go it’s nothing beyond the standard, plot-wise : newlyweds Tim (Bender) and Emily (Lyn) are starting a new life in the unnamed small town where Emily grew up. Tim’s landed a gig as a teacher at he local high school and Emily’s still looking for work, but hey, they’ve managed to score a nice little “starter house” for themselves, her old best friend Claire (played by Rachelle Dimaria) is still around — things aren’t looking so bad, all in all. Except for the fact that the place is, ya know, haunted and all. So right off the bat you know that execution is going to be what matters most here, because originality is something they probably can’t even afford to try. And that, fortunately, is where Find Me manages to stand out above most of its peers.

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The malevolent presence destined to fuck up everyone’s lives makes itself known pretty early on here, but the movie doesn’t sustain that quick pace for very long, and soon enough you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching some sort of wanna-be art film, given the amount of time that’s devoted to talented-if-amateur cinematographer Josh Gibson’s contemplative views of melting icicles, bleak midwinter landscapes and the like. This gives Palmer and company time to establish some pretty firm characterization for all the principles involved, but if you’re looking for our resident entity to graduate from simple bumps in the night to full-blown violent attacks in short order, you’re bound to feel a bit disappointed. I’m not griping — much — because it’s all reasonably effective and the actors, while far from professional, are good enough to carry most of the weight of the production on their shoulders. but for those afflicted with short attention spans, Find Me may prove to be a bit of a rough slog. Fair warning.

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I’ll tell you what, though, once things really do get moving, it proves to be worth the wait — there’s a double-whammy of secrets going on here, with both the history of the house itself as well as buried memories from Emily’s past factoring into who it is that’s haunting the couple and why, so if you’re into satisfying payoffs, this is a film that definitely has ’em for you on multiple fronts. None of it amounts to anything tremendously groundbreaking, it’s more than fair to say, but it’s all handled in immensely believable fashion and you won’t feel in any way cheated by this flick the way you do by 75% or more of the horror offerings out there these days. For that reason alone, I’m sort of tempted to say that Find Me is worth watching at least once. Are my standards incredibly low? Well, sure — the name of this site isn’t “Quality Films Guru,” after all. But Palmer manages to deliver far more than anybody can realistically expect from a production this obviously (and, it has to be said, charmingly) modest, so major props to him for that.

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To the best of my knowledge, this was never released on DVD or Blu-ray — at least not yet — but no matter, it’s not strong enough for me to recommend purchasing it even if it were. But if you’re home some night with nothing else to do and there ain’t a damn thing worth watching on TV — which, let’s be honest, is usually the case — you could do a lot worse things with 85 minutes of your life than give Find Me a go. There’s a sizable amount of heart on competence on display here, and if nobody involved with it either in front of or behind the camera should feel anything but pride for what they’ve accomplished.

How many multi-million-dollar Hollywood horror productions can you honestly say that about?