The world would be much more humane if we had more feral mad women and fewer doctors and nuns. That is the basic lesson of the latest cinematic ode to the noble savage. In this case, it comes with a dump-truck load of anti-Catholic propaganda. Grab for your Tylenol, because this film broadcasts its lectures at mega-decibels. Subtlety will be damned to infernal Hell when Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ opens this Friday in theaters.
Technically, Darlin’ is an original sequel to Lucky McKee’s The Woman, which was based on Jack Ketchum’s edgy novel. McIntosh reprises her role as “The Woman,” while also serving as director and screenwriter this time around. Arguably, the film’s lineage is the most interesting thing about it.
As the film opens, the Woman has been separated from her daughter, “Darlin’,” who has the great misfortune of wandering into a hospital that has just been acquired by the local Catholic diocese. Supposedly, they are also desperately short of funds, so this take-over does not make much sense, but this film is not about logic. It is just an excuse to grab a cudgel and beat the Catholic Church to a bloody, gory pulp.
Of course, the arrogant chief attending wants nothing to do with the dirty, smelly girl, but the Bishop swoops in sensing a golden opportunity. If he can document the Church’s successful efforts to civilize (McIntosh and company would put scare quotes around that word) her, it should secure a steady stream of donations, so he transfers her to the local girls’ orphanage. It will be poor Sister Jennifer’s job to oversee her education, particularly her religious studies (natch’). As the Woman follows her trail, Darlin’ rather tragically takes to Catholic dogma.
Presumably, McIntosh and company thought they were striking blows against patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia, and bourgeoisie squareness, over and over again. However, the real truth is conservative traditionalists would dearly love for average folks in Middle America to see Darlin’, because it is so relentlessly didactic and nakedly hostile to anyone who might disagree with it, it will inevitably push away hearts and minds rather than convert them. There are no real characters in Darlin’, only straw men and symbols. As soon as we meet the Bishop we know he will turn out to be a pedophile, because there is no way McIntosh would leave an anti-Catholic stereotype on the table.
You would have found more openness and less demonizing of conflicting points of view during a typical Maoist Cultural Revolution re-education session. It is pretty clear if you are not ready to abandon the Catholic Church (or really any Christian denomination) McIntosh and company think you are a bad person, so go hang your head in shame (after voting the way they tell you to). Not recommended—because it’s not really a movie, it’s a diatribe—Darlin’ opens this Friday (7/12) in select theaters.