The synopsis for Strange Darling really says it all. Written and directed by JT Mollner the mysterious thriller is “one day in the twisted love life of a serial killer”. Starring Willa Fitzgerald (The Goldfinch) and Kyle Gallner, who genre fans will no doubt recognize from Smile and Jennifer’s Body(just to name a few) Strange Darling is a cat-and-mouse story set over a short period of time, presented in a jumbled fashion like PulpFiction or Kill Bill (or any other Quentin Tarantino movie for that matter).
Honestly, the less you know about this one going in, the better. It does have a few cards hidden up its sleeve but the whole bloody affair really hinges on the ever-surprising performances of its two leads. Kyle Gallner is electric in pretty much everything you’ve seen him in and he’s just as engaging a performer here, but Willa Fitzgerald is kind of this movie’s secret weapon. At first glance she’s just another helpless girl on the run from a crazed lunatic, falling into the arms of anyone that will come help, but she is so much more than that. And how her character evolves overtime is one of the biggest highlights of this rough-and-tumble survival thriller.
“A brutal, gun-toting, blood splattered genre picture full of surprises.”
Strange Darling is presented as a story in six chapters and an epilogue. Those chapters aren’t given to you in sequential order, so you’re seeing the story in a shuffled order that really changes how some scenes play out. By seeing the second half of a chase sequence, you’re left to assume how we got there, and Mollner does a great job of playing cat-and-mouse with you as an audience member in how you expect this seemingly straight-forward story to play out.
The film opens with a text crawl, very reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), explaining that the following events are “based on a true story,” detailing the violent end of a serial killer’s two-year-long rampage across several states. We see Kyle Gallner’s character snorting cocaine and running a girl off the road with his pickup truck, This kicks off a very familiar Prey vs Predator scenario through the woods to a secluded cabin, before launching us back into the past to reveal the origin of how these characters arrived at such a violent moment in time.
“A character driven piece that feels like a by-the-books survival story at first until it transforms into something more unique…”
How Mollner has structured the story and how the information is presented to us makes a plain sailing story feel a little bit more like a puzzle box. It’s a character driven piece that feels like a by-the-books survival story until it transforms into something a little more unique. It may look like an archetypal thriller at first, but Strange Darling is a brutal, gun-toting, blood splattered genre picture that is pretty surprising for something that you would expect to be so straightforward.
Some other highlights include drug-fueled kinky sex in a motel room…A calorie heavy Sunday breakfast that even Elvis would appreciate….Classic cars getting flipped end-for-end…Brutal stabbings and neck gouging….Demonic hallucinations in red flood light….And two rock solid performances from Gallner and Fitzgerald. Not to mention a surprise guest appearance from Ed Begley Jr (Transylvania 6-5000) and Barbara Hershey (Insidious) as old hippies-turned-doomsday-preppers hiding in the woods of Hood River, Oregon.
“…as playful as any of your favorite indie gems from the 90s…”
Strange Darling is a surprising genre thriller that’s as playful as any of your favorite indie gems from the 90s. It’s jarring, and funny with lush cinematography thanks it’s 35mm film approach. Although the non-linear structure is purely designed to keep aspects of these characters hidden from you and would likely fail if it weren’t for that deliberate delivery system, it really succeeds in creating a suspenseful story that goes in directions you might not fully expect.
[Fantastic Fest 2023 Review] Experience A Day In The Twisted Love Life of A Serial Killer in STRANGE DARLING
Strange Darling is a surprising genre thriller that's as playful as any of your favorite indie gems from the 90s. It's jarring, and funny and one of the more surprising narratives at Fantastic Fest this year.
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