"Alice, Darling" a tense yet understated showcase for Anna Kendrick

Alice, Darling (2023)

As tense and measured as a bona fide thriller, “Alice, Darling” is an acutely observed psychological drama about emotional abuse in a toxic relationship. Director Mary Nighy (daughter of Bill) makes her feature debut, working from a screenplay by Alanna Francis, and never once sensationalizes the subject matter being explored with an understated touch. Don’t expect “Sleeping with the Enemy 2.” The film is really an intimate, nuanced character piece, held tightly together by Anna Kendrick’s lead performance. If she were back to being a fresh-faced newcomer, this would be her breakout; nevertheless, Kendrick is impressively subtle, layering her perky disposition with raw vulnerability.

Alice (Kendrick) is not okay. She may seem like she’s got it all together, but it’s really a façade of tightly wound perfection. Alice understandably feels suffocated, always trying to be “good” for her 37-year-old English boyfriend, Simon (a chilling Charlie Carrick). He works in the high-end art world, and he’s seemingly doting but never satisfied. When her two best friends, Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn), invite her to celebrate Tess’ 30th birthday at Sophie’s family’s lake house, Alice accepts but does not tell Simon. In his mind, she’s going on a business trip for the weekend. As it becomes clear to her friends, Alice is in a “relationship” that’s wearing her down. Perhaps the birthday celebration can double as a much-needed intervention.

This is a stunning showcase for Anna Kendrick, who has already proven her versatility but still continues to show more depth and range to her talent. As Alice, her wrenching performance is like a brewing panic attack, all frayed self-worth, self-harming tics, and quiet introspection. A lesser performance might have gone big and turned up the histrionics, but Kendrick plays her struggle more internally like a hollow, robotic shell of the former Alice. Wunmi Mosaku and Kaniehtiio Horn are also compelling, making up the friend-group dynamic and bringing authenticity to how old friendships change past a quarter-century of life. 

Alanna Francis’ script is so economical and full of unspoken truths that it must have read as subtle even on the page. While many films have explored physical abuse, the distinction here is that Alice might not even be aware she’s in an emotionally abusive relationship, but we see all the signs. Even when Alice gets to the lake house with her girlfriends, we can feel Simon’s dreadful presence. The only false note is the introduction of a subplot in which Alice takes interest in a missing local woman, to the point that Alice becomes part of the search party; it needlessly underscores the portent and paranoia but doesn’t break the film, either. How Chekhov’s Axe (okay, it’s actually called a “maul”) plays into the climax actually goes down less melodramatically than expected, and it feels like the right pitch for catharsis. Much like Kendrick’s performance, “Alice, Darling” is restrained but explosive.


Lionsgate is releasing “Alice, Darling” (90 min.) exclusively in AMC Theaters on January 20, 2023.