Review: SOMEBODY'S DARLING
So I have a problem with mysterious or ambiguous films.
I always hope there is a monster.
Maybe I can really just blame it all on Zulawski’s Possession, a film that at first glance is a deeply unsettling drama until it IS DEFINITELY NOT ANYMORE. Why do you think I find Benson and Moorhead’s Spring to be a masterpiece? Even Aronofsky’s mother!, which I concede I liked more than most, would have been infinitesimally better if somebody grew some tentacles. But most of the time I know I’ll be disappointed. Even when I’m watching the film, that disappointment washes over me and it’s the power of the film to change my mind that no, it’s strong enough without monsters.
“A love letter to 70’s style dramatic horror films” the director Sharad Kant Patel describes his film, and with an opening a credit sequences with shades of the artist Saul Bass, you take notice. Set in 2006, Somebody’s Darling follows Christian, a brother in an elite fraternity on a college campus in Anytown, USA. Christian, a chauvinistic egoist, has his sights set on Sarah who initially rebuffs his advances to only stoke his desire more. As his desire turns into obsession, Christians’ frat brothers, a sea of faceless caucasian cis-gendered men, begin to worry that there brethren is straying from the flock. God forbid, he fall in love with a WOMAN. (More on that later…) But as Christians obsession for Sarah grows, who reciprocated his affections with friendship, his health takes a toll and Christian begins to change revealing a secret about his fraternal pledge that...well, you can kinda see where this is going.
Now there are monsters in Somebody’s Darling. I couldn’t really tell you what they are, but don’t expect to see any work by Carlo Rimbaldi here. These monsters are more comfortable in, say, white polos and khakis than green goo. As an inebriated girl stumbles into the front yard of a party, two white guys high five and carry her inside decidedly not being heroes. Monsters. And this film is brave for tackling such a subject matter that is rife with opportunity to tell a powerful and meaningful story about rape culture on college campuses, but unfortunately it doesn’t truly take this opportunity to make a statement and it seem’s to have a large roadblock of inventive lighting that is sadly skewed by a soft focus that the film adopts throughout. I was hoping when a subtitle read 2006 that the softness of the lens would be used momentarily as an opening flashback, like in Roger Spottiswoode’s Terror Train, to set us up for the main narrative. But as we are reminded of through the usage of social media in the movie, the all too familiar old designs for Facebook and Gmail, we are stuck in 2006.
But why? While stories of rape on college campus are by no means new, with the current socio-political climate of today placing the story within the confines of not only modern social media but this culture shift that we are experiencing could have opened the film up to a far deeper and more meaningful dialogue about this topical subject. But as the plot furthers, we focus solely on Christians obsession as Sarah develops a relationship with a study partner leading to a potentially violent encounter in Sarah’s dorm room that is sadly too familiar for many women in college. But we know that, or at least we should know that, men in places of power can wield that dominion in sexually dominate ways. But there was no commentary, no underlying message that this behavior is unacceptable, from the inception. We’re supposed to feel for Christian, to want to see him tear away from the dangers of the fraternity, but without any immediacy in the opening acts, by the time Sarah is telling him he should leave his brotherhood, we wonder why (and it can’t just be the gray makeup that signals Christian’s “transformation”)? The ending feels almost like a slap in the face because, while bleak, my head screamed “We do not need stories about powerful, dangerous men succeeding right now!” What is supposed to be our takeaway from this film? Setting it in 2006, a decade away from many watershed moments of justice for victims of abuse, enhances just how much the world has changed and yet also has not? If they had refocused on the Sarah character, having her boundaries violated by a powerful man she met, we could find the conclusion heartbreakingly tragic. But as we never get a chance to truly know this characters beyond the surface level, I was left saying aloud “Tell me something I don’t know.”
All of this being said there is shining moments in this film. Someone wanted to tell this story and goddamnit, they made it! That alone deserves celebration and congratulations because it is not an easy feat. There are hallucinatory scenes with our protagonist that are strikingly shot, a Civil War flashback (Yes. Civil War flashback) in particular and an image of our two leads, hand in hand, seated in front of a jagged staircase. The sound design, though sparse, is used very deliberately and effectively, and the score and choice of songs were top notch. The performances are all over the place, but Paul Galvan (Teeth) as Christian does a fine job giving us something to focus on.
Clearly Somebody’s Darling is referring to a daughter, a mother, a sister, any singular woman can be somebody’s darling. And we discover by the end of the film something we already knew. Powerful, dangerous men will continue to devour. But in reality they are not thirsty for blood (that we know of…), but thirsty for more power to take by force. Any tension felt in this film isn’t in the ballpark to the tension women must face everyday of their lives. It’s our duty to be better, more accountable men so we don’t end up with a society full of whatever these frat boys “become”. And if there is any one takeaway from Somebody’s Darling though: don’t join a creepy frat.