ALICE, DARLING ½
2023, R, 89 mins.
Anna Kendrick as Alice / Kaniehtiio Horn as Tess / Charlie Carrick as Simon / Wunmi Mosaku as Sophie / Markjan Winnick as Marcus / Daniel Stolfi as OfficerDirected by Mary Nighy / Written by Alanna Francis
There's probably no better example in recent memory of a single actress elevating so-so material and uneven storytelling than Anna Kendrick in the new psychological thriller ALICE, DARLING.
If you're used to
seeing her in more happy-go-lucky and bubbly roles (such as in the PITCH
PERFECT series) then her new film should serve as an immediate wake-up
call (and perhaps reminder) of the types of serious roles that she can be
superb in when given the right chance (UP
IN THE AIR comes immediately to mind).
In Mary Nighy's (daughter of Bill) feature film directorial debut
she plays a traumatized woman that's involved in a deeply abusive
relationship with her longtime boyfriend. Hoping for an escape, she
tries to spend what should have been a relaxing and fun all-girls retreat
out in the country with her BFFs, only to become more mentally unraveled
by the minute by the constant toxic demands from this man that simply
can't take no for an answer. Kendrick
gives a sensationally grounded and wholly credible portrait of this woman
in peril, and the underlining story here is noble minded in its themes, to
be sure. Unfortunately, too
much of ALICE, DARLING - in terms of its scripting - feels half baked and
underwritten. The emotional
spectrum of this tormented victim has weight in the film, but the overall
story feels oddly waiver thin.
the titular character, who's been in a relationship with Simon (Charlie
Carrick) for years. On the outside to everyone around them, Alice and Simon seem
like a happy and mutually loving couple, but that's all a ruse, seeing as
he's secretly a domineering control freak that engages in psychological
warfare with the meager minded and vulnerable Alice and, as a result,
always gets his sick way. She's
driven to stay with him as many, I think, do when involved in improbably
hellish relationships, perhaps fearing what could result if she does
bolster up the courage to leave him.
Nevertheless, she puts on a good face for any public appearances
with him (he's a struggling up-and-coming painter that's having great
difficulty making his way up the industry ladder).
Alice does have some semblance of freedom from Simon's clutches in
the form of her friends in Tess (Kaniehiio Horn) and Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku),
who were once tight besties, but have grown somewhat apart over the years
because of the way that Simon has monopolized every waking minute of
comes in the form of a week-long escape (girls only, no boyfriends
allowed) to a lake retreat to celebrate Tess' birthday.
Although obviously reluctant at first to leave Simon for seven
days, Alice begrudgingly agrees to go and the three woman gather at a
family cabin to begin the rekindling of friendships and to escape from the
pressures of big city life. While
Tess and Sophie deep dive commit into this plan, Alice seems distant and
aloof in her struggles to completely separate herself from her phone and
Simon's constant online pestering. Tess
grows increasingly perplexed by the day as to why Alice is acting so
weird, whereas Sophie seems to understand that not all is right with
Alice, but without precisely pinpointing the root cause.
Alice, in the meantime, is severely struggling with the pressures
of making her friends happy during their vacation and the onslaught of
demands coming from Simon's never-ending text messages.
He has had enough of her being away and orders her to return
prematurely, and Alice becomes so scared at any blowback for disobeying
him that she starts to pack her things and prepare for the journey home.
Secretly, she wants to be as far away from this cretin as possible
and for good, but she's so paralyzed by fear that she doesn't know how to
do so. Realizing what's
really happening with their mentally destroyed friend, Sophie and Tess do
what they can to stage an intervention.
In the early
stages, I thought for sure that ALICE, DARLING was going to stumble down a
FATAL ATTRACTION story rabbit hole as far as Alice's relationship with
Simon goes. To its credit,
the film doesn't entirely follow an obligatory genre path.
Nighy and screenwriter Alanna Francis are plotting a drama about
domestic abuse, to be sure, but the film doesn't revel in scenes of
violence or physical torture in its key doomed relationship.
Rather more compellingly, ALICE, DARLING focuses less on scenes
between Alice and Simon and instead hones in on Alice's beleaguered state
away from him and all of the dehumanizing things that he requests of her
from afar. The film becomes a
cerebral horror show in terms of relaying Alice's state of complete denial
(she tries to convince herself - and what few friends she does have left -
that everything is fine in her world when it's anything but).
In Nighy's hands, ALICE, DARLING becomes a fairly commendable tale
of detailing the hopeless powerlessness that women have when involved with
the wrong kind lecherous and dangerous minded man.
Alice is the kind of abuse victim whose real damaging home life can
be understood for what it is by most on the outside, but she feels
pathetically trapped by feelings of justifying her relationship with
Simon, even though it's killing her from the inside out.
scenes are quite good here, as we see Alice feeling burdened by the weight
of Simon's hostile needs and the more protective desires of her two
friends. ALICE, DARLING
rightfully shows how one woman's abusive relationship can have a spill
over effect into other relationships outside of that, and her early
interactions with Tess and Sophie are fraught with awkwardness.
Alice seems constantly distracted, emotionally remote, and just
can't seem to keep her eyes off of her smart phone when with her pals, and
parts of the film that are arguably the hardest to endure and pack the
biggest impact are Alice's feeble attempts to make everything in her life
seem normal to Tess and Sophie, which boils over into different types of
stressful tension. Alice is
indeed the main victim here, and the cavalcade of requests made by Simon
to her are unnerving, to say the least.
There's something truly haunting about moments - for example - when
Alice excuses herself from her pals to go to the washroom and then uses
that opportunity to message Simon a racy picture of herself.
You can really feel this woman's entire world closing in on her to
suffocating levels. She can
only take it for so long...as is about to burst at the seams.
And - as
mentioned - the key to ALICE, DARLING is Kendrick's fully believable
portrayal of this woman trapped by the limitless unhealthy pathos that
typifies her home life. Alice is a woman that's so overwhelmed by
notions of vengeful hate being perpetrated on her by Simon that she simply
can't function anymore in what should be normal social situations without
him. Kendrick wisely plays
the fractured headspace of this poor woman with of cries of bleak despair
and catatonic silence. On
levels of pure dramatic honesty with this character, ALICE, DARLING is on
undeniably strong ground throughout.
Still, and having said that, I started thinking about what this
film would have been like without Kendrick's indispensable presence and
that's when the experience of watching it starting to falter for me.
If you go beyond the Oscar nominated actress' superlative work
here, there's simply not much left in ALICE, DARLING to recommend.
Aside from strong early story machinations and Nighy's poised
unwillingness to avoid her film becoming yet another mad-boyfriend-stalker-from-hell
thriller, there's not a lot of an actual plot that's here on the page: Abusive
woman leaves tormenting boyfriend to be away with her friends...he keeps
obsessively contacting her...she has a mental break...friends step
in...boyfriend shows up...a battle of wills ensue...and that's
essentially it. Beyond the
thin scripting, the film seems to rush itself to its would be
tension-filled climax between all parties that finds a manner of resolving
everything that never once feels plausible.
If only real life problems were fixed so quickly.
In the end, I respected the makers' intentions in ALICE, DARLING for wanting to craft a timely cautionary tale of domestic abuse, the spiral of self-shame when a woman is in such a union with no easy exit-strategy, and the monumental struggles one faces when attempting to flee from such a dreadful situation. Nighy opens her film confidently and has a thoroughly superb lead actress at the helm that gives career high work, but ALICE, DARLING - as a whole - doesn't have enough memorable weight and consequence. The film is not as deep and penetrating as it thinks it is, and that's a crying shame considering the subject matter.