Somebody’s Darling (2017)

I’m probably the wrong person to review this film, as I get the feeling that I may not be the target audience, but hey, fuck it, it hasn’t stopped me before, so let’s do it.

Okay, so I’ve got a doozy for you my guys – a little film called Somebody’s Darling, directed by first time director Sharad Kant Patel.

Oh and to be fair – THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS SO…

*spoiler warning*

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This film got sent to me and what kinda picked it out from the crowd was the subject matter, so I’m going to paste the description for you to read:

“A brooding mysterious fraternity president becomes obsessed with a coed despite having it all in his privileged existence.  What begins as a hopeful romance twists into obsession, and he risks his social standing in his pursuit of her heart. It seems that a positive change of character might bloom as he drifts away from the misogynistic, hedonist ways of his frat brothers.

But a dark secret seems to cloak it all, and glimpses of truth surface in his surreal visions and dreams. Huge and horrible revelations mark the violent finale of this retro-styled, psychological, horror drama touching upon current issues of date rape culture, southern history, and privilege.” – Somebody’s Darling press release

I’m also going to paste one of the review quotes that was enclosed with the release that was eye catching to me and came into play when I did my thinking about this film:

“It treats its subject matter with honesty and a sense of urgency, never once venturing into exploitation.” — Bloodbath & Beyond

The concept of tackling the ever present issues around campus rape culture seemed quite interesting to me, because I do believe that the horror genre is capable of addressing political questions – however, the promise of it not veering into exploitation was interesting to me as well.  Horror is built on exploitation by the very nature of the genre.  The viewer vicariously watches the discomfort and even death of others (depending on the genre, this is predominantly a female role), played out in the safety of fiction and fantasy, which is itself exploitative. Famous directors are guilty of this in fantastical and often real life exploitation as well – Shelley Duvall & Stanley Kubrick comes to mind, Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Blacula, Blackenstein, and I could just go on and on.  An exploitation film by its very name and subgenre mantle exploits either persons, races, trends, or situations in order to succeed financially…

With the campus rape culture so painfully in the front of everyone’s minds following the Brock Turner trial and subsequent slap on the wrist he received for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, the Mattress Girl, pink pussy hats, #ImWithHer, and #MeToo – the very concept of using campus rape culture to make a film in this time with this subject is exploitative.  Somebody’s Darling may not endeavour to, but it exploits a current social issue in order to be relevant, but that’s not really all, and I will come back to this.

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The film itself is 80 minutes long and at first glance it was quite slick and polished (even considering the small budget it was made on) – the opening had kind of an art school James Bond cut-out kind of opening that I really liked.  It reminded me a little bit of paper cut art, or something like that?  The film takes place in Williamsburg college in 2006 and when it started I initially thought it was opening into a dream sequence as the shots were resplendent in a vaguely sepia and blue Instagram filter overlaid with soft focus abounding.  What I initially thought was going to be a dream ended up being the way the film was shot, and I don’t know that I got it?

I get that 1970s films have a very distinct look, that lurid technicolor that has just the right amount of grain, the blood that always seems blue toned..  I get it.  I even buy that the hard and slick plastic veneer of 1980s films is identifiable while the 1990s can blend almost seamlessly into that veneer.  Early 2000’s films are identifiable as well – always a token goth, extremely dated when viewed ten years later.  I got the impression this film was trying to appear to be “retro”.  But is 10/11 years ago retro?  I mean, I suppose it is, by definition – retro meaning something fashionable from the recent past, and that does meet the definition.  I didn’t dig on this aspect of the film, but in truth, given the rest of the film, had it not had the funky filter, it may have come off as fairly weaker (or even weaker?).  I dunno, I just didn’t get that bit.  Whatever.

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So, to the plot – Christian is the head of one of the most powerful and notorious fraternities on campus and like many a drunken frat boy given to Bacchanalian excess before him – he throws campus parties amid a growing trend of women experiencing “date rapes” with “GHB”.

A group of girls decide to hit up the frat party because why not, and Sarah, the black sheep wallflower is exhausted with campus culture (or lack thereof) and when cornered by Christian, she calls him out for being a bro, and he gets pissy and stalks off.

I should mention that Christian’s brotherhood are a group of creeps and one of them looks like a sinister version of Frankie Muniz.  And it made me crazy the whole time he was on screen.

frankiemuniz

picture this coming into hazy focus as you wake up from a G-hole

Anyways – Sarah has sworn off dudes since her exboyfriend was a jerk and now she’s absorbed in homework and studies which is whatever.  Her aloofness and general disinterest in the campus scene seems to drive Christian wild and for whatever reason he becomes obsessed with her.  As his obsession grows, he stops eating or sleeping, and staggers around in a haze while his brothers plot what to do when he “Turns” – this is also never really explained, so it’s left into the air as to what they mean by this.

As Christian hallucinates and yukks it up on whatever whacky drug the kids take these days…  what is it now…  Flakka?  Is it the Flakka?  Or GHB I guess in this case…  Fuck, I remember doing GHB for funsies – anyone else remember that?  Nothing like a little capful of G to make you loosey goosey and feel like you just drank six beers at once.  I mean it’s all fun and games until you OD in front of the Viper Room, I suppose.

Anyways Christian’s all high stumbling around and he goes into Sarah’s dorm and her boyfriend shows up and is all “FUCK OUTTA HERE”, but I thought she didn’t have a boyfriend so I dunno what happened there??

I found this film somewhat hard to follow in terms of pacing and then in sound design – in many scenes, the outside noise like crickets or cafe music was mixed at the same level as the speaking voices of the actors and it became a task to attempt to decipher what the actors were saying.  I felt like Christian’s character was based in part off Skeet Ulrich’s character in Scream – the same bad boy impishness mixed with equal parts amateur philosopher / pseudo intellectual and I actually liked that.  I felt the actor, Paul Galvan, was quite skilled in creating the air of mystery around Christian.  There were some points where he really seemed to chew on the scenery and simply not seem to know what the hell to do with his face (after he murders Sarah and is cradling her body in the bathroom of her dorm).

Chris in dream.jpg

So yeah..  Christian ends up killing the woman of his dreams, like many a crazed psycho stalker before him.  As to how he got there, that part was unclear to me, simply because I had issues following along with the movie.  At one point in the film, Sarah is researching the location of a battle that took place during the Civil War, and Christian is able to tell her exactly where to go to find it.

The film title Somebody’s Darling is actually from an 1864 Civil War poem/song written by a nurse, which reads as follows:

“Into the ward of the clean white-washed halls,
Where the dead slept and the dying lay;
Wounded by bayonets, sabres and balls,
Somebody’s darling was borne one day.
Somebody’s darling so young and so brave,
Wearing still on his sweet yet pale face
Soon to be hid in the dust of the grave,
The lingering light of his boyhood’s grace. 

Somebody’s darling, somebody’s pride,
Who’ll tell his Mother where her boy died?

Matted and damp are his tresses of gold,
Kissing the snow of that fair young brow;
Pale are the lips of most delicate mould,
Somebody’s darling is dying now.
Back from his beautiful purple-veined brow,
Brush off the wandering waves of gold;
Cross his white hands on his broad bosom now,
Somebody’s darling is still and cold. 

Somebody’s darling, somebody’s pride,
Who’ll tell his Mother where her boy died?

Give him a kiss, but for somebody’s sake,
Murmur a prayer for him, soft and low,
One little curl from his golden mates take,
Somebody’s they were once, you know,
Somebody’s warm hand has oft rested there,
Was it a Mother’s so soft and white?
Or have the lips of a sister, so fair,
Ever been bathed in their waves of light? 

Somebody’s darling, somebody’s pride,
Who’ll tell his Mother where her boy died?

Somebody’s watching and waiting for him,
Yearning to hold him again to her breast;
Yet there he lies with his blue eyes so dim,
And purple, child-like lips half apart.
Tenderly bury the fair, unknown dead,
Pausing to drop on this grave a tear;
Carve on the wooden slab over his head,
“Somebody’s darling is slumbering here.”

I’m Canadian, so I haven’t been steeped so much in American history, so my knowledge of the Civil War is limited, I will admit.  The Civil War ties to Christian continue in his violent fantasties of sitting atop a throne on a hill strewn with bodies of broken soldiers.  In some of his visions he sees Sarah sitting with him.  It’s really a Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain” kind of image and it’s not entirely uncool, it just didn’t ever seem to be explained or go anywhere?

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The visions of his are never really addressed and seem to only be experienced by him, and then as he either becomes insane, or turns into a demon or whatever the fuck is happening, the visions become more severe.  Which is cool and all, but it really felt like two very separate storylines were happening at the same time and you only ever got to see portions of one or the other and never enough of both to make sense of either.  I really feel like Christian’s back story could have either been neutered or either made more prevalent.

The whole concept of the campus predator thing seemed somewhat vague or in the periphery of the whole film.  It would surface occaisionally when Sarah or another girl would be cornered by the weird frat brothers.

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And for being only 80 minutes, holy shit this film did it’s fair share of meandering.  I think it was trying to sow a sense of trepidation, fear, and general unease but I ended up being a little bored and with the dialogue being tough to follow, I would find myself kinda checking out at points because I didn’t really understand what the hell was going on.

In terms of being “period accurate”, the film had flip phones, but really that was about it.  In reality, it probably could have just been set in 2016, but maybe that would have fallen into that explotation category?  I have no idea.

Anyways, the final reveal ends up showing that Christian and his bros are Civil War era vampires??  And they survive by drinking the blood of women on campus during date rapes/druggings?  So, uh, wanting to use a serious topic like rape on campus and then ending up trivializing it by making it about Civil War era vampires isn’t maybe the most sensitive way to go about it, and definitely falls into that exploitative category that I talked about at the start of this review.  Sarah’s murder is also not maybe the best thing that could happen to that character.  She became just another victim, snuffed out at the hands of a male perpetrator – at best an insane madman who felt entitled to her body and affection, and at worst, a Civil War vampire??  Like.  What.  That’s what we have here?  I’m extremely confused.

Now, we all surely understand that rape is about power – to make someone do something that they don’t want to do asserts power over them.  I assumed that in addressing the topic of campus rape, there might be some power given back to the victim, but Sarah is pretty unceremoniously snuffed out, and what did we learn or gain from that?

Again, I find myself going back to the quote from Bloodbath and Beyond about this film not being exploitative and I have to say..  what.  What the hell, how is this not being read as exploitative?  Whatever – all art is truly subjective, but I sort of assumed that in addressing this issues, it might be in an effort to empower those who have suffered, but I was wrong.

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m sensitive about this subject because I attend university, and I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t been sexually assaulted in some way or another, save for one.   Like I said before about the exploitative nature of this film – Maybe the reality of campus rape culture isn’t some paranormal boogeyman  – it’s just a regular guy, and for me, that’s far scarier.  I feel that turning a legitimate concern into something from fantasy trivializes the experiences of the 1 in 3 women who will experience a form of sexual violence in their lifetime.  Rape culture, and the campus rape issue isn’t some fantasy, it’s very real.  And the reality of that is just too fucking foul to bear.

Maybe I got too wrapped up in the trappings of this film and somewhere along the way forgot to enjoy it, I don’t know.  But I think when it comes down to it, this film wasn’t really for me.  It doesn’t make it a bad film, on the contrary, I think for a first time effort, Somebody’s Darling looked slick and artsy.  I can see why it cleaned up a few awards on the horror circuit, but unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut for me.  I genuinely don’t like giving negative reviews to indie pieces, especially ones that obviously had such large amounts of love, time, effort, and thought put into them, and that’s kind of the crap shoot of doing the whole review thing.  Straight up – I wasn’t the audience for this film and that’s about where I’m going to leave it.

That said, I look forward to seeing future work from Sharad Kant Patel, because I think that even though this film fumbled to find it’s light and voice, no one is going to find their style or niche right out the gate and to think otherwise is to be dishonest about filmmaking.  And with the greatest sincerity, I wish Sharad the best in the future, and I hope to see more of his work soon.

Somebody’s Darling comes out on VOD (iTunes, Amazon Instant and more) on December 1st – I recommend giving it a watch, but don’t be surprised if you start to check your watch about halfway through.


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You can find Robin on twitter, sharpening stakes for the next frat party.

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