Set in contemporary Canada, Alice, Darling takes its time revealing exactly how Alice (Anna Kendrick) is being controlled by her artist boyfriend Simon (British actor Charlie Carrick). It’s a smart move that reflects the insidious nature of psychological abuse – so often invisible to both the victim and their friends.
We first see Alice on a night out with Sophia (His House’s Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn). She’s anxious and checking her phone constantly, worried about upsetting her boyfriend. When she invites the pair to the opening night of Simon’s art exhibition, you catch a quick look between the girls. Alice’s friends are clearly concerned, but they don’t know the full story. That’s gradually revealed on a tense girls’ holiday, and it’s quietly gripping stuff. But this still feels closer to a drama than the thriller it’s billed as, exploring Alice’s mental state and the impact on her friendships.
Written by Alanna Francis and directed by Mary Nighy (daughter of Bill), this takes a sensitive and empathetic approach to its central character. Alice is constantly afraid of crossing Simon, blaming herself for not living up to his unreasonable expectations. It’s a believable portrayal of the impact of gaslighting and brainwashing: Alice’s conviction that she’s at fault will resonate with many audiences.
It’s a believable portrayal of the impact of gaslighting and brainwashing
Kendrick herself has revealed that she was once in an abusive relationship, and her understanding of her character is clear in a riveting performance. Physicality is key, whether she’s anxiously pulling her hair out in private, steadfastly refusing eye contact with someone in public or taking part in a very revealing sex scene. Given that some of the dialogue is very on the nose, the film is strongest when working to the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle. And if it feels like the beginning of a conversation rather than a full exploration, it’s a hugely important conversation that isn’t shown enough on film, or from this point of view. And Kendrick is perfect for the job.
In cinemas worldwide Jan 20.