Abuse and friendship at heart of thriller ‘Alice, Darling’

“Alice, Darling”

Rated R. At the AMC Boston Common.

Grade: B+

Unlike that other recent film with the word “darling” in the title, “Alice, Darling” sports the grammatically correct comma. It is also a much more resonant tale of how female friendships can help a woman in psychological distress due to an abusive relationship.

The first sign that Alice (Anna Kendrick, also the executive producer) is in trouble is that she is self-harming by pulling strands of hair out of her head and has too many cocktails while out with her friends Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn, “The Man in the High Castle”). Alice lives in some unidentified city with Simon (Charlie Carrick, “Departure”), a not very successful artist with supposedly high standards that are a cover for his bullying, controlling nature. Alice sends Simon provocative photos of her decolletage. She wants to be desired and look perfect for him. From the outside, Alice and Simon’s relationship looks enviable. They appear to be a successful couple in love, living a life others strive for. The truth is she is literally falling apart.

She rehearses conversations and repeatedly tries to control her breathing. Pretending to be going on a business trip to Minneapolis, Alice sneaks away with Sophie and Tess to enjoy a week in Sophie’s family’s cottage in the woods and celebrate Tess’s birthday. On the way, Alice gets so upset she has to get out of the car to be sick. Upon arrival, they learn that a local young woman named Andrea Evans has gone missing and that there are daily search parties out in the woods, an emergency that eerily mirrors Alice’s existential condition. Alice joins the search parties on her own. At the cottage, she and Tess tangle when Alice suggests that Tess is less of a person because she is between jobs. Sophie, the mother figure of this trio, cooks cinnamon buns and offers her support to Alice. Alice evades.

Films about female friendships tend to be comedies such as “Girl Trip” or “Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar.” “Alice, Darling” has the tension of a thriller, especially when Sophie teaches Alice how to handle a maul, and Alice really gets into it. You just know that that maul is going to play a role later on.

Written by Alanna Francis (“The Rest of Us”) and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Mary Nighy, who is also an actor and the daughter of actors Bill Nighy and Diana Quick, “Alice, Darling” is an insightful examination of the way in which friendships among women can be nurturing and supportive. On a solo search for Andrea, Alice finds a house in woods. Frightened by a bird inside the house, Alice leaves with a book that turns out to be Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel “Mrs. Dalloway,” another story about a woman in an unfulfilling relationship.

In “Alice, Darling,” Alice, Tess and Sophie relax in a hot tub and unwind. They cook for one another and tell each other stories. They drink together at a local watering hole and sing Lisa Loeb’s 1994 hit “Stay.” The serpent in this Eden is Simon, whom Sophie looks upon like he’s a bacterium in dire need of an antiseptic. Kendrick’s Alice is so damaged you expect her to explode. Can her friends save her? You can count on them to try.

(“Alice, Darling” contains profanity and sexually suggestive material)