Review of Darling

Darling is a slow burning horror film reminiscent of the Shining and Witch. It is eerie and atmospheric, with sudden bursts of shrill, frightening music that reminded me of Insidious.

I think that it’s an okay film. It “felt” smarter than a lot of other films that I’ve seen recently, that’s for sure. But ambiguity doesn’t always mean greater intellectual merit. I was not left with any haunting moments stuck in my mind.

I won’t go over the plot much because I want others to see it and the less that you know, the better.

It is filmed in crisp, gorgeous black and white. The starting montage could have easily been part of the opening to Woody Allen’s Manhattan if it weren’t for the ominous low music and lack of narration. The shots were picked very carefully so as to omit anything that might take it out of its setting in the late 1960s / early 1970s.

I will say that this film is very beautiful. The director really knew how to get the best possible range of black and white. Some of the best that I’ve ever seen.

The film is ambiguous about whether or not the protagonist becomes unhinged due to a malignant spiritual or demonic presence in the house, or if she’s actually unhinged from the start and that she’s only imagining things. Perhaps she’s using the house’s reputation for being haunted as an excuse to indulge in her revenge fantasy (or homicidal tendencies in general).

Just like Pulp Fiction, I suppose that in the end it doesn’t matter what’s in the suitcase (or, in Darling’s case, just what she sees when she finally opens the locked door at the end of the hallway). The movie is about the situation and the atmosphere, not about plot.

When I first finished watching it, I wasn’t happy. I thought that it was pretentious and that it relied too heavily on visual trappings from Jacob’s Ladder and the Shining. The ending made me say “okay, so what?”.

In retrospect, I think that Darling was finely made and tightly directed. Lauren Ashley Carter was pretty good as the tormented (and demented) protagonist. Her huge, emotive eyes sure helped. There were times when her skinny face gave me flashbacks to Shelley Duvall panicking through the halls of the Overlook Hotel.

In terms of scares, Darling uses long, slow shots without any sound, sudden, loud bursts of orchestral noise, shaky heads and jump cuts to 2-3 frames of grotesque expressions, and some substantial gore during one sequence. There are one or two jump scares which mostly annoyed me.

I think that one scene in particular would have worked better if they had made the blood more “gooey” or “syrupy”. Not sure if Rigor Mortis kicks in so soon after a murder, but the watery splashy-ness of the gore felt too fake to me.

Some key mysteries:

Spoilers start here

  • When Darling finds her victim’s I.D. card, and realised that he wasn’t her intended target, was she freaking out because she killed an innocent man or because she didn’t get revenge after all?
  • Is the house deliberately attracting vulnerable, unhinged people as caretakers? Is it a malevolent force that likes to create tragic murders and suicides?
  • It is implied that Madam might know what’s going on with that house (and is probably in on it). If she was, why did she call the police when she found out that Darling had done something awful?
  • What was behind that locked door down the hall? My theory: nothing. It’s a broom closet. Darling realises that she’s nuts, and that she hadn’t been influenced by an outside, supernatural force that condoned her terrible deed.

Spoilers end here

Conclusion

If you want something different, and you like the slow, eerie qualities of the Shining and the Witch (VVitch?), give this one a shot. I found it interesting, but not hugely memorable.

Review of Wonder Woman

Preamble: I saw this weeks ago but I wanted to write this in light of reading some negative reviews that were so contrary to my own beliefs that I was stunned and confused. I wanted to make sure that there are some reasonable positive reviews out there too, regardless of how small my voice is.

When I was a kid in the late 80s (and early 90s), my dad introduced me to Gustav Holst. At the time, Mars: the Bringer of War was the most memorable one. It sounded like epic movie music! At the time I was unaware of the context of that piece, however. Later, when I understood the horror and tragedy of World War 1, Mars had a vastly different meaning.

I still remember when my dad told me the story of the Christmas Truce. It was not long after going to the War Museum here in Ottawa and walking through the recreation of the Somme trenches where I saw a human hand and face in the mud. Needless to say, I viewed the concept of war very differently. Not as a fun G.I. Joe game, but as something very, very sad. I learned of my Grandpa’s experiences on a Corvette escort ship / submarine hunter and watched The Cruel Sea. It wasn’t a fun thing at all and I might never have been born if Grandpa had been on an unlucky vessel.

When I first heard that Wonder Woman would occur during the Great War, I was impressed and excited (not in the usual way of anticipating super hero movies). I was hoping that they’d do the historical event honor without too much schlock. I wasn’t disappointed.

There is something incredibly touching and tragic about a noble-hearted demi-goddess super hero in golden armour charging across the Somme. She wants to end human suffering because of war and her desire to do so is pure and selfless. And ultimately a bit naive in a beautiful way.

Wonder Woman was a great film in my opinion: exciting action scenes (great battles that were easy to understand), characters who I cared about (Robin Wright’s warrior-instructor was surprisingly likeable despite not knowing her for long), strong emotions (I teared up at several scenes, especially when Diana first arrives at the front lines and sees the suffering first hand) and great casting (all very believable actors who took the subject matter seriously).

The movie also showcases a lot of diversity. Some folks complained but I loved it because it really emphasised that the Great War was a WORLD war and affected a lot of nations. It made the world feel larger.

I really liked Diana. Gal Godot was great and showed far more depth than I anticipated. Chris Pine was great as her co-protagonist. His final scene, despite following a few familiar tropes, still had an emotional impact for me.

The supporting characters were cool too. I genuinely felt touched that Ewen Bremner’s character displayed crippling PTSD which inversed the trope of the usual expert sniper. I felt that this film respected soldiers as human beings despite the super hero film genre. It wasn’t a recruitment/propaganda reel like Michael Bay’s Transformers massacres.

To me, the WW1 was really the ultimate victory of the God of War: it set the stage for a whole new world. Even though Diana defeats Mars in the end, it doesn’t really matter in the long run, which added to the bittersweet feelings of this movie.

However, it did make a difference. After the villain’s defeat, there is a scene akin to the Christmas truce as soldiers from both sides (pointedly young men, further revealing the tragedy of that war) seem to come out of a daze and find themselves showing compassion and camaraderie. Top notch.

Wonder Woman is another film that elevates the super hero genre. Most of the internet disagrees with me and is instead focusing on whether it has too strong of a “Feminist Agenda” or not enough of one. Those people are un-ironicaly waging a war of ideals that makes me sad: they don’t seem to care about the messages of the film itself. The tragedy continues, it seems.

Spiderman: Homecoming was totally boss.

Like most Marvel movies of late, this film was fun, funny, intense and exciting. In this review, I’ll keep any spoilers under one obvious heading.

Aside: These are just my opinions. My tastes in film are quite diverse (my favorites include The Holy Mountain, 2001, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Alien, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Baraka and the Empire Strikes Back). I can laugh at Billy Madison and fully appreciate the symbolism in the Last Temptation of Christ. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has thrown at us. Now that you have that perspective, let’s move on.

I also cared about the characters. I was invested in them. I even cared about the villain. Maybe I’m just a sap, but I feel more empathy from certain films than most, it seems. I teared up during Wonder Woman (the WWI stuff was heartbreaking), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (Yondu’s scenes and that part with Drax and Mantis) and Logan (boy lots of melancholy in that one).

Tom Holland was great as Peter Parker and as the titular hero. He felt believably emotional and geeky. I’ll always have a soft spot for the Tobey Macguire films, but Holland really nailed it here.

The secondary characters (mostly Peter Parker’s school friends) were all interesting to me and I loved the casting. While I cringe at tokenism in general, I actually loved the diversity of the cast. New York, like most major Western cities, has a lot of racial diversity. That’s just a fact. Get the hell over it, Alt-Right crybabies.

Actual high school kids (at last). Great actors. I loved Michelle (second from right).

Also major props to the casting: the high school kids actually LOOK LIKE THEY’RE IN HIGH SCHOOL. That’s a nice change.

There are some genuinely heartwarming or heartbreaking scenes in this. Parts that made me want to cheer (and I would have but I didn’t want to embarrass my wife again). The comedy made me laugh out loud, the action was entertaining and the camera work and set design charmed me throughout.

Spidey’s new costume is great. The emotive eyes add SO much to the character.

Adds so much to the costume. Emotive Spidey eyes are great.

Any references to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe made sense to me and didn’t feel forced. To me, anyway.

Spoilers

The reveal of the villain as the father of the love interest really, genuinely shocked me. A fantastic idea.

M-J’s reveal was also really cool. I hadn’t expected that. I’m glad that she gave Peter a lingering look at the end to hint that there’s something there. Very, very happy with this. Again, I don’t give a crap about M-J not being a white girl with red hair.

I also loved the twist about the usual “no one believes the kids” trope: Stark DID listen to him and took steps to deal with it. Again, a nice plot choice.

End of Spoilers

Vulture’s look is fantastic and threatening.

Again, I wholeheartedly recommend this movie. It’s wonderful and cheerful but also dramatic. It’s in my mind still. Good job Sony + Marvel. You’ve won me back into Spiderman as a movie franchise.