Fantastic Fest review: 'Strange Darling' keeps shocking twists coming

Willa Fitzgerald stars in "Strange Darling." Photo courtesy of Miramax
1 of 5 | Willa Fitzgerald stars in "Strange Darling." Photo courtesy of Miramax

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Strange Darling, which premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, is one of those discoveries in which the surprise is imperative. So this review will attempt to celebrate it without spoiling it for future viewers.

The opening credits only name the main characters as The Lady (Willa Fitzgerald) and The Demon (Kyle Gallner). Though divided into six chapters, the film begins at Chapter 3.


The Demon runs the Lady off the road in an impressive vehicular stunt. Then, he pursues her through the woods.

The Lady finds a place to hide long enough to pour alcohol on a bloody ear. Then she takes a moment for a smoke, suggesting she's been through so much already, she deserves a little reward.

Then, the film skips to Chapter 5, during which The Lady is hiding from The Demon. It's easy to relate to this cat-and-mouse scenario without any character information.

If he's chasing her with a gun, then the intention is clearly to root for The Lady to get away. Writer-director JT Mollner nudges the viewer in that direction by naming Gallner's character The Demon.

When Strange Darling finally presents the beginning of the story, The Lady and The Demon play out an uncomfortable psychological scenario. This, too, does not go where viewers might expect.


Now, when the film returns to its middle chapters, it recontextualizes what we saw before and keeps us guessing. Some viewers may get ahead of the surprises by the end, but it's never boring.

The opening credits also brag that Strange Darling was shot in 35mm film, a rarity in the digital age. As cinematographer, Giovanni Ribisi maintains a steady frame in which the action unfolds, full of vivid colors.

Strange Darling relies on Fitzgerald and Gallner's performances, and they navigate the film's twists and turns believably. The story also makes extreme demands of them, which would be spoilers, but the leads deliver.

In their chase, they encounter several other supporting characters. Those characters are joining the story with even less information than the audience received to that point, so they respond believably in the moment.

Miramax produced Strange Darling, so it eventually will be released. If the above sounds intriguing, let that be enough and try to know as little as possible when it's available to watch.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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