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Review: ‘Darling’ has its ‘Shining’ moments but is more moody than scary

Lauren Ashley Carter as Darling in the movie "Darling."
(Screen Media Films )

The warning at the beginning of “Darling” alerts us to “flashing lights and hallucinatory images,” but the movie that follows from indie-horror writer-director Mickey Keating — though stylish in its black-and-white chilliness — is more likely to dull by repetitive creep than memorably rattle the senses.

An opening montage of monochrome Manhattan cityscapes creates a keen sense of foreboding as “Darling” sets up its simple but timeless tale: the young woman (Lauren Ashley Carter) versus the old, portentously empty house. Hired as a caretaker, our prim-looking innocent is blithely informed by her well-to-do employer (Sean Young) that the last woman in the job jumped to her death from a balcony. Once she is left alone, that spot naturally beckons, as does the locked door at the end of a slim hallway with bare white walls.

Thoughts of “Repulsion” and “The Shining” are hard to ignore as Keating hews closely to the slowly deteriorating mental state of our protagonist (called Darling by her boss). She wanders around as if trying out for ghost status, lies in bed like a corpse in a casket, and allows herself to be picked up in a bar by a man (Brian Morvant) whose excitement at being invited back to her place is obviously ill-fated.

Unnecessarily breaking up his movie into chapters with titles such as “Invocation,” “Demon” and “Inferno,” Keating is less interested in surprising us than working an old-fashioned, classically atmospheric dread — cue the faint piano strains, whispery voices and relentlessly ticking clock — broken up by the expected trendy bloodletting.

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Carter, an arresting presence with her hair in a dour flip and eyes you think can’t get bigger yet do, gamely steers the breakdown. (She’s especially good at suggesting roiling undercurrents.) But her role is more game piece than flesh-and-blood character. By the umpteenth disruptive shock-cut and patiently framed shot of Carter staring us down, “Darling” has worn out its welcome even as a mood piece.

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“Darling.”

Not rated.

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Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema Hollywood.


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