Director: Pollyanna McIntosh
Notable Cast: Lauryn Canny, Pollyanna McIntosh, Nora-Jane Noone, Cooper Andrews, Bryan Batt
Darlin’ was one of the films that I was most excited to see in 2019. Not necessarily because it was going to be the best film of the year, but the concept of the film as a follow up the incredibly dynamic and provocative The Woman was enticing. Add to the fact that the actress from the predecessor, Pollyanna McIntosh was both writing and directing the film made it even more fascinating. Although McIntosh does not quite have the steady hand and directorial skills that Ketchum and McKee brought to the table to make The Woman such a vicious film, Darlin’ is, indeed, a bold follow up that extends some of the themes of the original into new territory while still delivering the same kind of abrasive material expected. It’s also a film that struggles with some of its structure and getting over its budgetary restraints, but it makes some big swings and that’s worthy of praise.
To address this properly, it should be noted that Darlin’ is a true sequel to The Woman and does require at least some understanding of what its previous entry had to offer for some of the choices made in the film. That in itself is a tricky concept as The Woman was, more or less, following up the film Offspring as a very, very loose sequel. It was a film that did not require seeing Offspring reading the books it was using as a foundation. It stood well enough on its own as a heart ripping horror social commentary. Darlin’ does not stand on its own quite as well. A quick synopsis of the events that occurred between the end of the previous film and this one is going to be perplexing to an audience unfamiliar with the characters it references or how they ended up where they were. It’s not a completely make or break situation, but for maximum effect, it’s best to watch The Woman prior to visiting Darlin’.
Now with that caveat out of the way, it’s time to address Darlin’. As mentioned, the film throws its audience right back into this world where this feral woman and her now “adopted” daughter have been living in the wilderness. That’s the basic set up and it’s when the daughter, Darlin’, is found and taken to a hospital that the film starts moving. The film sets up it's dual plotting almost immediately as it separates the mother and daughter. Darlin’ is forced to attend a small Catholic boarding school as they attempt to find her parents and the feral woman begins her violent hunt to find her daughter.
If you’ve seen The Woman, you already know that the film has an incredibly pronounced feminist lens that viciously approached patriarchal systems of family. Knowing that this film has one of its characters being educated by a religious institution, then I’m sure you now where Darlin’ is heading. Yes, it takes on a lot of thematic material in its run time and McIntosh certainly took notes from Ketchum and McKee on layering its themes into its plot. At times the film is rather heavy-handed with it's messaging and there are a few key moments that will have audiences feeling quite uncomfortable with what is being fed them, particularly after the second act seems to be moving in some positive directions for all of the characters involved. There is thematic material that heavily critiques the religious aspects of its script, but it does not forget to retain its feminist agenda either. As those layers begin to unfold, there is some intriguing moments open to interpretation underneath the heavy-handed messaging and the film doesn’t shy away from ending on an open and emotional moment. Similar to its predecessor, Darlin’ also ably uses its pitch-black humor as a secret weapon to push its messaging to the next level. It’s a vicious combo that works impeccably well. As a side note, stay through the credits for a final scene that resonates nicely after the final moments of the film.
Where Darlin’ succeeds in taking wild swipes with its thematic material, it struggles a bit in the execution of its traditional plot. The two-part dual plot is where Darlin’ tends to falter the most. The film stumbles to find a sense of balance between the two and although it’s obvious that there is a thematic thread that McIntosh is pursuing with every sequence, there isn’t a sense that the film quite gets its momentum as it leap-frogs between the two. Although the performances are once again fantastic in the film, with a huge nod in the direction of Lauryn Canny as Darlin’ who embodies the juxtaposition that the character must navigate in her confusion as she transitions worlds, there is a sense that there is too much the film is trying to convey in one film with its budget. There is an entire B-plot where McIntosh’s mother character ends up teaming up with some homeless women (?) who end up following her to the church in the third act to raise some hell (?!) before it completely peters out and is swept under the rug. There’s an interesting idea there, but the film would have benefitted more by taking that time and focusing more on Darlin’ and her experience.
Darlin’ is an ambitious film and although it does succeed in many aspects with some of its themes and a slew of amazing performances, the film does not quite find the right balance in its plotting and the budgetary restraints make the film a bit more intimate than expected. When the film is hitting its stride, it’s impactful and punchy. When the film is struggling, the plotting feels thin and forced. Darlin’ never hits the heights of its predecessor, but it’s ambitious in trying to while adding in new material. For that, it definitely deserves the praise.
Written By Matt Reifschneider