You could argue that Mickey Keating, who wrote and directed “Darling” (not to be confused with John Schlesinger’s 1965 film, which won Julie Christie an Oscar) might be too enamored of Polanski’s thrillers. His picture is so derivative of “Repulsion” and “The Tenant” that even the word “homage” seems inadequate. And yet while it hardly breaks new ground, it’s reasonably successful in covering old territory.
The simplicity of the script is, in a way, rather disarming. A young woman (Lauren Ashley Carter) takes a job as caretaker of an old Manhattan mansion; in outlining the duties, her new employer (Sean Young) implies that the place comes with something of a reputation, but expresses assurance that all will be well.
It’s not, of course. As the young woman walks around the place, she discovers that one upstairs room is locked, and wonders why. She begins to experience hallucinatory flashes, perhaps occasioned by recollections of an unwelcome past encounter with a man. And when she ventures out for a drink and meets a gregarious guy obviously seeking companionship (Brian Morvant), she invites him up to her place. As he rattles on about his unbelievable luck, she cracks, and the opulent place becomes a scene of carnage that has to be cleaned up. Get out the saws and garbage bags! (The fact that the picture is shot in lustrous black-and-white by Mac Fisken–except for a few splashes of color in the captions that divide the narrative into chapters–is especially welcome at this juncture, no less than the similarly visuals in “Psycho.”)
There are suggestions of past supernatural goings-on at the house—mention of former residents conjuring up demons—that can be taken as an explanation of what’s going on, just as the girl’s earlier experiences obviously hasten her breakdown.
But Keating isn’t really interested in providing explanations. His aim is to craft a stylish exercise in horror tropes. He largely succeeds, thanks to Carter’s bravura performance, Fisken’s gorgeous images, Valerie Krulfeifer’s editing, which juxtaposes languid tracking shots with whiplash cuts and sputtering overlays, and Giona Ostinelli’s moody score, which adds sharp jabs to the shock moments.
At the close of “Darling,” Keating adds a postscript that reaffirms his film’s indebtedness not only to Polanski’s claustrophobic studies of mental deterioration, but to “The Shining” as well. His picture may be little more than an imitation, but at least the models are first-rate.
At at barely seventy-five minutes, it doesn’t try your patience overmuch.