Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Spousal abuse comes in many forms. In coercive control dramas like You Mean Everything to Me or Palm Trees and Powerlines, the abuse is far more obvious to see and follow, so what happens when the psychological torment is so calculated that it refuses to show itself around others? Enter: director Mary Nighy’s TIFF selection, Alice, Darling. Featuring a key lead performance from Anna Kendrick, the character-driven script from writer Alanna Francis plunges us into a complicated scenario of abuse.

Lately, Alice (Kendrick) has been acting a little off. Her best friends, struggling artist Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) and non-profit worker Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku), have noticed she shows up late to dinner, and they aren’t big fans of her possessive boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick), either. Only Sophie shows up to Simon’s big gallery opening with Alice, which seems to be the start of a wedge driven between Alice and Tess. However, a week-long trip for Tess’s upcoming birthday may be exactly the balm they need to mend their friendship. The fact that Alice is so afraid to tell Simon things is the first red flag I noticed while watching. The second she tells an annoyed Simon that she will be going away to Minneapolis for a “sales trip,” it becomes obvious that something is off about their union.

As Alice tries to decompress and enjoy the cottage with her girls, there is no escaping Simon. Even when he isn’t there with her physically, Simon’s presence seems to be hanging over Alice like an ominous cloud. She pulls her hair out thinking of him belittling her and calling her a “cunt.” Alice is always distracted, glued to her phone, sending selfies to Simon. It gets so bad that Alice is referred to as “Gossip Girl.” No matter what she does, Alice cannot step out of Simon’s shadow. He seems to have destroyed her mentally. Anna Kendrick has not been this compelling since her scene-stealing turn in 2018’s A Simple Favor

Though his screentime is minimal, Charlie Carrick makes the most of every unnerving second he appears—gorgeous on the surface, yet ugly inside. When alone with Alice, Simon really made my skin crawl in anticipation of what he may do or say. As the loyal best friends, both Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku are fantastic. Wunmi in particular makes a badass mark in her steadfast devotion to Alice. At the end of the day, though, this is the Anna Kendrick show. I was glued to the screen, hoping that Alice would find a way to overcome her aggressor. Kendrick is compelling in every nervous tick she imbibes into Alice.

An intense confrontation peppers the ending with notes of horror and relief, which is an almost intoxicating mixture. Perhaps the best scene for me was one in which Alice asserts full sexual control over Simon as he aims to seduce her in his way. Alice, Darling is a drama that takes a strong stance on what it means to be abused. When charisma and lust give way to judgments and animosity, the verbal abuse becomes far too much to bear. This is a powerful movie with a passionate, special message that screams to be heard.

Alice, Darling examines an unsettling reality when it debuts nationwide in AMC Theaters on Friday, January 20th.  

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