Alice, Darling: A Quiet Drama That Explores the Hidden Corners of Psychological Abuse
Anna Kendrick’s moving performance shows the quiet effects of psychological abuse
Alice, Darling Review
Alice, Darling has an innocuous, sweet-sounding title. “Darling” is a term of affection for a loved one, and it’s one used by Alice’s (Anna Kendrick) boyfriend in the film. However, much like in Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, the appellation is more sinister than it appears.
Directed by Mary Nighy in her feature directorial debut, Alice, Darling shows the deep roots of psychological abuse in a relationship. Alice (Anna Kendrick) is a successful career woman who lives with her older boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick). On the surface, Simon seems charming and attentive to Alice. Behind closed doors, he gaslights and berates her until she questions her own worth and sanity. Alice sneaks away from Simon for a vacation with her best friends, Tess and Sophie (Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku). Tess and Sophie’s concern is a catalyst that prompts Alice to face the dark feelings her relationship evokes within her.
While most of the film focuses on Alice’s processing of her relationship with Simon, the audience gets brief, disjointed glimpses of their codependency. Simon makes decisions for both of them. He comments Alice can do better than the job she has. He keeps her pinned to his side in public. Simon is against anything that will take Alice away from him and his control of her. He dissuades her from spending time with her friends and discourages work trips. Simon’s voice echoes in Alice’s mind even when they’re apart. His criticisms play on a loop in her mind.
Alice’s kinship with the missing woman, Andrea Evans, helps her process her feelings of grief over losing herself in her relationship. Andrea serves as a detached proxy for Alice. Alice’s friends comment on the erasure of her personality. The search of Andrea, a woman who may have suffered abuse, resonates deeply with Alice. She attempts her own search for Andrea, the results of which propel her to confront her own relationship with Simon.
While Alice, Darling is marketed as a mystery/thriller, it has more elements of a drama. The obliquely-referenced mystery of Andrea Evans is solved quickly in a newspaper headline. The film’s climax is wrapped up quickly, although it exudes a quiet roar of its own. There’s not enough suspense and the stakes aren’t high enough to make it a thriller. However, it stands on its own as a quiet drama that lets the wake of an abusive relationship unfold.
Alice’s back-and-forth processing adds an emotional element to the script. Alice admits to Tess and Sophie, “I never know what’s going to make him angry.” She justifies her relationship’s status quo by adding, “He doesn’t hurt me or anything.” The audience sees the horror play out in Tess and Sophie’s expressions. While Alice stands too close to her relationship to view it clearly, her friends can see the marks Simon’s psychological abuse leaves on Alice.
Many of Kendrick’s scenes take place in a bathroom. It seems to be the one place where Alice can release her tense composure and feel the full extent of her feelings. Kendrick exudes the shame, embarrassment, frustration, anger, and sadness Alice feels, so the audience can see what she’s grappling with. Alice’s raw experience of her painful emotions shows the lingering effects of physiological abuse. Alice’s physical manifestation of these feelings is expressed in tense hair-pulling episodes, which further propel her cycle of shame.
Many shots feature Alice flanked by her best friends. This blocking is likely an intentional choice on Nighy’s part to show Tess and Sophie’s support. While Alice is fraying thread by thread, her friends hold her up. Their support is a visual reminder of the necessity of a loving support system. One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Alice questions where to put her shame. Tess and Sophie lay their hands over Alice’s heart, sharing her burden.
Kendrick’s use of body language hints at what Alice is feeling. Alice has trouble expressing herself verbally, as she feels she needs to censor her thoughts and feelings to live up to Simon’s expectations. When Alice is in public, she is upright and tense, with controlled, even expressions. When Alice is alone in a bathroom, her movements are frenzied, as though she knows she only has a limited time to feel her feelings. Rare moments of quiet show Alice slouched or stooping under the weight of Simon’s demeaning words.
Nighy’s lighting in the film leans heavily toward shadows. Shadows surround Alice for most of the film, showing how trapped she feels. She is reduced to a shadow of her former self. Alice’s vacation with her friends in the countryside shows her in brighter lighting and more open spaces. These glimpses of light symbolize Alice’s ongoing evolution to break free of her codependent bindings.
Kendrick’s performance strikes an emotional chord. She carries the weight of Alice’s burdens believably. She switches between stiff, controlled Alice, frenzied Alice, and open, relaxed Alice seamlessly. Her variations give Alice depth and make her a sympathetic character.
Nighy’s visual interpretation of the script unfolds slowly and quietly. Her choice of pacing reminds the audience that most realizations come on slowly rather than all at once.