Trapped in an abusive relationship: “ALICE, DARLING”

In director Mary Nighy’s “Alice, Darling,” the toll an abusive relationship takes on the victim is explored through a subtly observed screenplay and Ana Kendrick’s surprising dramatic force.

Kendrick is a revelation as Alice, a woman who exists as an actor in her own life, her true self trapped deep within the confines of a controlling boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick).

As Alice walks through every waking moment, she is performing a life where Simon’s abusive dominance is justified. So twisted by her conflicted feelings towards him, Alice has rationalized his abuse as love and his demands on her body as affection.

This is a woman so far behind the facade that she is blind to the emotional and physical harm Simon has caused her.

Kendrick shows a level of acting talent previously unknown. Save for her great work in Jason Reitman’s 2009 “Up in the Air,” the actress’s dramatic talents have been underused in too bland many Hollywood comedies. Finally, a role has come to make good on her potential.

Alice’s private panic attacks (during which she hyperventilates and yanks out her hair) cause her emotional collapse and it’s all due to her abuser. Kendrick is heartbreaking here, as director Nighy holds the camera tight to catch every honest sentiment out of her. Neither the actress nor her character has anywhere to hide, it’s on display and Anna Kendrick embodies the character’s mental torture,  in what has to be her most fully committed performance ever.

Terrified to ask for time to herself Alice lies to her boyfriend, telling him she has a business trip. Instead, Alice is going for a week by the lake with her best friends Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn).

It is obvious how Alice’s friends feel about her relationship with Simon. The two cannot hide their disapproval, as Alice is constantly checking her phone and is mostly distracted, unable to take in the beauty of the lake house and the nature that surrounds it.

Alanna Francis and Mark Van de Ven’s script is not a dissection of an abused woman, but an observation that delineates the unshakable anxiety that controls Alice’s life when she is away from Simon. Alice is never relaxed. Too much time away could spell trouble. For Simon, any signs of independence from Alice means a betrayal.

Mary Nighy and her cameraman Mike McLaughlin use extreme close-ups to capture the weight of Alice’s psyche. Director and Cinematographer use allusive montages that cut from Simon’s deceptively loving face to somber representations of Alice’s feelings of isolation. The audience is not just a witness to her trauma, as the filmmaker causes us to feel every second of Alice’s physical and emotional discomfort.

The inclusion of a side story regarding a local missing woman in is unnecessary, as it too simply represents a grim fate that could await Alice if she were to stay with Simon. Taking away from the intensity of the film’s drama, this is the script’s only misstep.

Nighy makes sure her film is controlled. Every moment with Alice must have significance. This is not a feminist statement but a film about women finding their power.

It is in a climatic shot where the film finds a powerful profundity. As the three women are confronted with Simon, Alice stands between Tess and Sophie. The two women make a barrier for their friend, confronting Simon, until all three become united. In an incredible visual representation of strength and female empowerment, the friends tower over a crumbling Simon as a wall of unity. The image is absolutely striking.

Driven by Anna Kendrick’s captivating interpretation and a screenplay that’s riveting, Mary Nighy’s “Alice, Darling” is a highly-emotional portrait of a woman losing her real self and drowning in a fraudulent depiction of love, this is a sensitive and honest film, the type that is lacking these days.