Alice, Darling review: Anna Kendrick delivers career-best performance as a victim of emotional abuse
Alice, Darling review: Director Mary Nighy's feature debut is an effective character study of a young woman stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship.
In Mary Nighy's delicately observed feature debut Alice, Darling, Anna Kendrick's titular character pulls strands of her own hair so tightly around her fingers that it breaks into little shreds. She's slowly spiralling. On the outside, it shows like Alice has got it all. A steady career, some friends and a caring boyfriend. Look a little closer and her Alice pulls you in an unshakable rhythm of erosion of her well-being. (Also read: The Little Mermaid review: Disney’s most soulless, pointless live-action remake yet)
The experiences of emotional abuse
Written by Alanna Francis, Alice, Darling takes time to build its subtext of emotional transparency with which Alice takes on a performative realness. When she goes out for drinks with her friends Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn), she keeps fidgeting with her phone to check messages, and later goes in the washroom to click a picture of herself to send to her boyfriend. When a suggestion for a weekend gateway appears before Alice, she lies to get out of the circle. But how long will Alice let herself be followed like a shadow?
She is trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship with Simon (Charlie Carrick)- an unhappy artist who is not quite sure of his upcoming gallery show. An early scene establishes the dynamic between the two in subtle brushstrokes- his looming figure creates a tight circle of possessive blind sidedness around Alice. The contempt and tightrope of words with which Simon operates when he is around her is unsettling. Although we get to witness their proximity only in an earlier scene, the breadcrumbs of his evasive torment follows Alice like a shadow even when she's by herself, which is finely glued together by the editing work of Gareth C. Scales.
The focus on a subplot
Mary Nighy pulls the viewer in through a slow-burn, omnipresent lingering of a thriller. When the setting shifts to the cabin beside the river, there's a subplot of a girl who has recently gone missing. Alice can't help but look closer into this matter even when it doesn't concern her at all. Or maybe it does, as suggested in her desire to disappear from the inexcusable circle of control. Thankfully, Alice, Darling doesn't hammer into this subplot for long, and somehow diffuses the mystery around it to trace it back to our protagonist. The understated focus on the strength of female friendships that allow Alice to take control of her own agency is rightfully earned.
Yet, even as the focus remains largely on Alice, the film functions with a disproportionately thin narrative that begins to make the 90 minutes of screen time feel a little stretched. There's not much going on here to keep the tension alive. Alice, Darling could have benefitted so much more if it had the ambition to pull in the characters of Sophie and Tess into the narrative, or dug out ways to channel the setting beside the river. By the time Alice, Darling reaches its well-intentioned denouement, it has become predictable in more ways than one.
Anna Kendrick's best performance
Yet, you stay with the crawling fear of Alice mainly because of Anna Kendrick. The actor gives a wounded, internal performance that makes Alice's tiniest shred of doubt three-dimensional in its transparency. She single-handedly provides Alice, Darling with a vibrancy and spirit that elevates the fastidious motives of the narrative till the very end. The actor has always had a natural screen presence, and here she's fascinatingly against-type, playing a woman who doesn't want to be shown the symptoms of emotional abuse. This is her best performance to date.
Alice, Darling is now streaming on Lionsgate Play.