Directed by: #PollyannaMcIntosh
Lucky McKee’s The Woman (released in 2011) provided a commentary on man’s need to civilise the untameable, perhaps even, of our colonial past. But for her sequel, writer/director Pollyanna McIntosh (star of The Woman) turns her ire to organised religion; providing a biting criticism of Catholic hypocrisy and the appalling workings of gay therapy camps.
Darlin’ sees the woman’s (Pollyanna McIntosh) return, with a now 16-year old Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) in tow. Reappearing at church-run St. Thaddeus Hospital, Darlin’ – attempting to enter the building – is struck by an ambulance. After being admitted to St. Thaddeus, she comes to and attacks the staff. Until that is, she’s stopped by a kindly nurse, Tony (Cooper Andrews), whom she quickly befriends. Under Tony’s care, Darlin’ begins to shed herself of the woman’s influence—actively shutting her out on several occasions. But when the Bishop (Bryan Batt) arrives with Sister Jennifer (Nora-Jane Noone) to take her away to his Catholic school for orphaned girls as a publicity stunt, the woman goes in search of revenge.
Anyone who’s seen The Woman will tell you, regardless of their opinion of the film as a whole, McIntosh was superb in the titular role. She reprises that role in Darlin’ (her feature debut), and she’s every bit as brilliant as she was before. But, as the title might suggest, this isn’t her movie. That honour goes to young Lauryn Canny – playing the now titular character, Darlin’ – who really nails the nuances of her character. These two central characters are anchored by a proficient supporting cast; with standout performances from Maddie Nichols, Nora-Jane Noone, and Cooper Andrews.
Darlin’ works so well because while McIntosh has taken the concept and characters from The Woman, she’s adjusted just enough to make this feel fresh. Making the movie, very distinctly, her own, while also remaining true to the events, and spirit of the prequel. And while the concept is the same, moving the focus to a more specific topic (religion) has allowed McIntosh to create a narrative which feels far more relevant. Not that The Woman is particularly outdated, of course. It’s only 8-years old, after all. But by turning her focus to the nature of religion, McIntosh opens up two prime targets for scrutiny—namely the Catholic church’s child-abuse scandal and the modern-day gay conversion therapy camp.
It might sound strange at first, but it actually works really well. The child-abuse element is very apparent, the gay conversion therapy...not so much. And maybe that isn’t what the film’s commenting on (I’d love to know), perhaps I’m looking into it too much. But I definitely felt a hint of The Miseducation of Cameron Post in Darlin’s time spent at the “school” (which is really more like a cult)—sneaking out to the woods to listen to banned music and whatnot. And her friendship with Billy (Maddie Nichols) – a character I felt had subtle implications of homosexuality – and Tony (an openly gay character) lead me to believe this is more than mere coincidence.
Regardless, the simple fact that it can be interpreted in different ways is a beautiful thing. Too many films nowadays are all too keen to ram whatever message they’re trying to convey down the viewer’s throat. Which, unfortunately, can have the opposite effect to what is intended; stifling conversation, rather than letting it flourish. Darlin’ – like The Woman before it – is structured in such a way that invites the audience to discuss its intricacies for weeks after. Indeed, Darlin’ really struck a chord with me, and I have considered certain lines of dialogue, glances shared, and gestures made between characters since first seeing it at Grimmfest, almost one month ago. And that’s quite an achievement.