It’s not always possible to recognize signs of abuse while they’re happening. Some believe that any sort of mistreatment must involve physical violence, and the absence of that therefore negates any claims of abuse being perpetrated. Yet there are unfortunately many ways in which people can torment and manipulate others, and the fear of not being believed can prevent victims of such behavior from speaking out, if they’re even able to process what it is they’re enduring. Alice, Darling presents an all-too-realistic instance of a woman in a destructive relationship who consistently feels pulled back to her very problematic boyfriend and away from her friends who care deeply about her.
Alice (Anna Kendrick) has her life dominated by Simon (Charlie Carrick), who exerts control over every facet of her life while making her feel as if she’s still pushing to do too much on her own. In public, however, they appear loving and he dotes on her. When she meets the friends she hasn’t seen in a while, Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn), she finds time to step away to send him a suggestive photo from the bathroom. The opportunity for a weekend getaway with her friends proves alluring, but Alice knows that Simon will never let her go and tells him she has a work trip. Away from Simon for the first time in a long time, Alice is uneasy, and her friends begin to notice that she is not in good shape.
This film’s title comes from the demeaning way in which Simon speaks to Alice, adding a term of endearment to imply kindness when all he’s really doing is assigning ownership over her to himself. There are many unsettling moments throughout this film in which Simon uses subtle and direct methods of gaslighting Alice into thinking that she couldn’t possibly deserve anything more than him and that she should be grateful for the affection he shows her. But anyone watching can see the clear red flags in the relationship, which makes Alice’s reaction to her friends’ legitimate attempts to help even more alarming, since she rises to Simon’s defense and in the same breath reveals just how scared she is of disappointing or upsetting him.
This film is an intimate production, one that really involves just four performers. The isolated location that the three friends venture to could well be the setting for a horror film, but this is horror of a different sort. Alice still receives texts from Simon that she’s able to read into and worry that he might be on to her lie, and therefore his influence remains very much with them as Sophie and Tess struggle to connect with someone who just hasn’t been the same since she started dating Simon. The way in which the story unfolds is simplistic and straightforward, as Sophie and Tess gauge just how much they can successfully pry before Alice starts to push back and see them as a threat.
Kendrick has anchored a number of films since her acting debut at the age of eighteen nearly two decades ago and tends to portray endearing, plucky protagonists who may struggle socially but ultimately do find happiness. This role is considerably different since it enables her to project a familiar affable image while masking constant fear, emphasizing the fact that even those who might seem very happy are vulnerable to mistreatment and being preyed upon by those who delight in lording power over others. The dependable Mosaku stands out in the cast as someone so committed to her best friend’s wellbeing but who also resents being shut out of her life. The course of the narrative touches on crucial subjects that should be discussed more but doesn’t add much to it. There is something very valuable about telling a story like this, but this particular presentation, despite its best intentions, doesn’t feel quite as emphatic or powerful as it should.
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Alice, Darling is currently playing in Los Angeles and opens nationally on Friday, January 20th.