The roles Anna Kendrick has been stuck playing for most of her career—a diverse range of often humorous characters—include the stuffy buddy, the eccentric leading woman, and the semi-rebellious college radio DJ. The actress seems more likely to play a Beca than a Natalie even after receiving an Oscar nod for her supporting performance in Up in the Air.
Kendrick, though, mesmerizes in Mary Nighy’s profoundly unsettling first film Alice, Darling, proving that she has always had depth and breadth. The actress portrays Alice, a character who has been subtly abused in a relationship, leaving her weak and emotionally abused. Kendrick begins by projecting a fragility as if Alice were made of porcelain and any unexpected movements from her friends Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) or lover Simon (Charlie Carrick) may break her. Then, under Nighy’s confident direction, her performance changes. It expands, contracts, and then swells once again to represent the emotional seesaw of abuse.
We can witness the brutality of Alice’s relationship through her obsessions, such as pulling hair, tightly twisting it around her index finger, and constantly calculating calories. Nighy favors inference over justification. We learn that Simon, a mercurial painter, has ingratiated himself into Alice’s brain through fleeting memories that editor Gareth C. Scales has brilliantly intercut. He bothers her so much that she tells Simon she is taking a business trip when Sophie and Tess ask Alice to spend the weekend at Sophie’s cottage. While he gets coffee and pastries from a café, she practices the lie, adding to her anxiety and desperation with each repetition.
Alice can’t stop thinking about Simon on the way to the lake house. Every time a text message from him dings on her phone, the lie nags at her. Her worries are fueled by his seemingly uncomplicated want for her to fly safely. It feels nasty to send her another text wondering whether she is thinking of him. Simon’s frantic communication style, which is characterized by the frequency, timing, and tone of his communications, is premeditated and forceful; it keeps Alice thinking of him even when she attempts to break free.
The majority of Alice, Darling takes place in the cottage’s neighborhood, a peaceful rural community. The moment the group of three arrives, Alice notices a flier for a missing girl when the group is making a brief stop at a convenience shop. Our protagonist, who even participates in search attempts to discover the teen, is consumed by the local case. The most intriguing element in Alanna Francis’ otherwise well-developed and controlled screenplay is this: It’s challenging to determine what the case is trying to tell us without detracting from Alice’s already compelling story. The case piques Alice’s curiosity more and more, but its goal becomes progressively less clear.
Watching Alice, Sophie, and Tess engage with one another throughout the weekend and observing the frustrating moments of misunderstanding and the victorious ones of clarity is one of the most fascinating aspects of Alice, Darling. The inherent chemistry between Horn, Mosaku, and Kendrick makes engaging in their friendship simple. We quietly implore Sophie and Tess to see behind Alice’s outbursts of rage and propensity for seclusion. We want Alice to trust her friends enough to confide in them.
The tense music by Owen Pallett directs their tense exchanges and emotional moments. The only thing that comes close to conveying Alice’s continual sense of impending doom is the taut, pulsing soundtrack. The unflinching cinematography of Mike McLaughlin contributes to upholding the somber atmosphere.
Alice becomes more relaxed without her phone, which encourages her to share more about her relationship with Simon. Tess, Sophie, and, by extension, the audience, are further convinced of the severity of the abuse when they hear accounts of the insults, complaints, and accusations he directs at her. An illustration of opposites is Alice and Darling. Nighy gives Alice’s transformations in the second half of the movie more urgency by gradually developing an impression of how abuse affects Alice’s conduct in the first half. At Tess’ birthday celebration, Alice indulges in sweet foods, drinks alcohol, and refuses her friends’ offers to give back her smartphone.
The way that Alice, Darling’s third act makes use of the tension that has already been established is particularly stunning. Simon tries more drastic measures to visit Alice and attempt to repair the poisonous dynamic after not hearing from her. However, Sophie and Tess have supported Alice in finding herself again, filling her with love and bolstering their relationship. This turns out to be Alice’s saving grace since it gives her the authority and ability to consider a life without Simon.