“What is wrong with Christian Roane? Mystical visions haunt this crumbling fraternity president as he broods over a feisty, intelligent coed named Sarah Stein; his pursuit of her spirals into obsession and hints of violent tendencies, culminating in a shocking revelation. His brothers, normally preoccupied with their hedonistic lifestyle, prepare to intervene to protect their clandestine agenda”
Somebody’s Darling is an independently produced film that was released in 2016 and has slowly been gaining acclaim for its retro-styled storytelling and its well-handled subject matter; the film is an homage to slow-burn ‘70s psychological horrors such as Black Christmas (1974) and Fear in the Night (1972), relying on luring audiences in with developed characters and a murky atmosphere of protracted dread, instead of buckets of gore or horrific creatures. Interwoven into the story are the somber issues of rape culture on American college campuses, social privilege, peer pressure and even a bit of Southern history.
The film centers on Christian Roane, the president of an elite fraternity at Williamsburg University. His near-perfect life leaves him without want and yet, something is missing and this causes him to languish in and out of shots. Cue an extravagant party held at the fraternity’s clubhouse, inviting all the young cast to exhibit themselves and provide foreshadowing; enter Sarah Stein, a young co-ed that Christian gets acquainted with and begins pursuing, whilst he helps with her Civil War-era history project. What starts off as innocent flirtation and somewhat reserved reciprocation becomes gradually creepier, bordering on psychopathic obsession. Other characters either experience trauma or simply continue undaunted with their ways – Monique,an ill-fated co-ed, experiences PTSD (after an incident at the party), jumping at shadows and full of paranoia for the world; and the frat brothers continue their hedonist ways without a pause for their actions (especially towards the fairer sex).
The film shuffles along, providing much exposition, whilst hinting at the fraternity members’ social status, their nihilistic behaviour and the enabling toxic environment they inhabit. The film’s themes are close to reality, but its political undertones remain as subtle as the ever-present unease – Christian’s mystical throne flashbacks are a literal metaphor for placing Sarah on a pedestal, something that enamored obsessed minds do; The red figures at the start of the film reference sexual assault/rape statistics: 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault or rape on campus, 1 in 6 men will experience sexual abuse or assault; Another is in the title itself: it shares the title of an anti-war poem written by Marie Ravenel de LaCoste, a nurse who tended wounded soldiers during the American Civil War; Even the opening quote is very Portrait of Dorian Grey which fits in nicely with the theme of duplicity in the film.
The influence of Hitchcock and several classics of the era such as The Shining and The Exorcist are noticeable such as the use of minimal lighting to maximum effect and building suspense through atmosphere. The actors play their parts with competency (especially Monique), bringing the human element that hinges Somebody’s Darling to the horror shown on screen and thus giving the film its gravitas.
For a film made on a micro-budget, the producers deserve credit for putting together what could have turned out very differently. There are several technical aspects that stand out: the special effects used in flashback scenes and dream sequences bear a unique and remarkable quality; editing cut a measured pace that was consistent with its inspiration source; the cinematography set a shaded atmosphere that enveloped the cast in a shroud critical to the film’s creep factor – to nit-pick, it does seem too dark to make out facial expressions in certain shots but it does not detract from the overall experience.
“We tried to go against current genre fashion. Hopefully, fresh audiences will appreciate a micro-budget horror film that does not use shaky found footage, explicit gore, or sudden shocks scares; one that partially used West Side Story as a touch point for visual style. I’m trying to use psychological horror to reflect upon very real issues of rape culture, peer pressure, and elite privilege. Coincidentally, my brush strokes of Confederate cultural elements have also become surprisingly relevant.”
A true test of grit for any director is in how strategic they are with the resources readily available and Patel utilized each with a precision illustrated by how he wholly made the film engaging. Patel’s predilection for including minute details stands out and it contributes to the film-going experience; you pause to think during and even after about the political undertones and insinuations presented.
In conclusion, the film can drag longer than it intends to even after establishing itself, and the characters’ performances sometimes feel unfussy to the point of indifference but the narratives and themes get tied up neatly in the end. You get treated to a sluggishly entertaining tale of patriarchal tradition, the perpetuation of destructive behaviours and so many prickly scenes that have a disquieting connection with reality.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: SomebodysDarlingtheMovie.com