Mary Nighy’s directorial debut has Anna Kendrick giving a career-best performance.
Alice, Darling may tout itself a psychological thriller in its marketing, but that leads audiences astray. This isn’t Repulsion or Mulholland Drive. Instead, it’s a startlingly accurate portrayal of domestic abuse.
The feature debut for both director Mary Nighy and screenwriter Alanna Francis, Alice, Darling is a tight little drama that thrusts the viewer headlong into the shoes of Alice, a woman fraying around the edges due to the power of her dangerously controlling boyfriend, Simon. Anna Kendrick perfectly brings all of Alice’s anxieties to life while Nighy keeps the camera close so the audience can feel every nervous twitch and every panicked glance. This partnership allows the film’s sense of tension to grip you by the heart.
The source of that tension? The lie Alice tells Simon to attend a girls’ trip with her friends Tess and Sophie for the former’s 30th birthday. It’s abundantly clear Simon will discover the lie. Even clearer that Alice will pay for it. The only real questions are when and how dearly?
At first, this trio of friends feels incredibly two-dimensional. Their interactions make it difficult to believe Alice ever met, let alone been close friends with them for years. However, what Nighy is doing here is incredibly intentional. The friendships feel false because Alice has grown so isolated because of Simon. Now, they may as well be strangers. The longer she spends with them, the more she becomes her old self. It is then that their relationships sparkle.
It’s also part of why Nighy keeps the camera so close to Alice. If we stay with Alice, we can keep her friends at a distance. Extreme closeups of her eyes frantically searching for signs of Simon’s disapproval, of her fingers furiously pulling out small clumps of her own hair help Alice’s anxieties dominate every scene. We even get sudden and startling cuts to POV shots of her looking at Simon. They show just how much real estate he takes up inside her head. His voice even drowns out her own.
These kinds of details make it obvious this is a story told by women, even if you stripped their names from the credits. The specificity speaks loudly to anyone even vaguely familiar with the kind of abuse Alice is facing, including Anna Kendrick herself.
Alice, Darling is a tight little drama that thrusts the viewer headlong into the shoes of Alice.
Alice, Darling keeps audiences waiting for the ax (or should we say splitting maul?) to fall. When it finally does, it eschews convention. The story avoids the tropes built up by films like Enough and old episodes of SVU. As prevalent as Simon is in Alice’s mind, the film refuses to cede him the spotlight.
It’s vital to make this Alice’s story, not Simon’s. His motivations don’t matter (though there’s enough in the film for us to make some guesses). Thankfully we don’t need to see much of the actual abuse to believe in its effects. Alice, Darling has no interest in punishing the audience members who may know all too well men like Simon. Instead, it focuses on trying to make those people feel fully seen.
Wunmi Mosaku (Luther, Lovecraft Country) shines as Sophie, the glue bonding the women together. While Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) reacts with frustration and anger at Alice’s disappearance from their lives, Sophie realizes it’s far more complicated. She sees that something menacing is going on and can’t help but be empathetic.
Together, these three women carry a film that hardly needs anyone else. And when telling women’s stories like this one, that’s exactly how it should be.
Alice, Darling is in AMC Theatres now.