Reviews | Written by Andrew Marshall 25/07/2019

DARLIN’ [Edinburgh Film Festival]


After a feral teenager is left at a hospital, she ends up being sent to a Catholic orphanage, the bishop of which is determined to civilise her as a demonstration of the healing power of religion in an attempt to gain more funding. However, her mother, the nameless matriarch of a small tribe of wild humans, begins a search for her missing daughter and will not let anything or anyone stand in her way.

Although Darlin’ acts as a sequel to Lucky McKee’s 2011 piece of nastiness The Woman (which was itself a follow up to 2009’s largely unrelated Offspring), narratively the film is completely its own thing and seeing its predecessor is in no way necessary to follow its events, although knowing what previously occurred does provide some context for the Woman’s contempt for men who try to control her actions.

The Woman was a very straightforward story of abuse and vengeance and, thematically, Darlin’ covers similar ground of dealing with men denying women autonomy and believing they somehow deserve the right of dominion over their development and to decide when they are deserving of entering society. However, the structure of Darlin’ is far subtler than its predecessor’s blunt force misogyny, drawing you into a world of sanctimonious hypocrisy so gradual in its unveiling that at first it seems like the potential has been completely overlooked. But, as the story progresses, it becomes clear this is the whole point, the cunning of what the film shows and hides mimics the insidious deceit with which perpetrators of abuse manage to conceal their actions from the world.

The eponymous girl is a blank enigma for much of the film. While being tutored in Catholic doctrine she is allowed little personality of her own, all of her time instead being spent told who and what she is supposed be, regardless of the choices she might make herself if anyone bothered to ask her. She has no concept of life beyond the wilderness in which she grew up, and so the religious teachings she is required to digest give her a skewed perspective of reality, knowing no other beliefs beyond those fostered upon her. When a revelation makes it clear the extent to which her naïveté has fused her personal circumstance with the enforced theocratic education, it raises the question of just how much attention anyone has actually been paying to her.

Since the Woman tries to keep her makeshift tribe away from civilisation, it’s not immediately clear why she felt it necessary to bring Darlin’ to a hospital as there doesn’t actually seem to be anything wrong with her, but when this is addressed everything immediately falls into place. Likewise, there is a niggling issue with there being little with which to judge the passage of time, but this is also later dealt with, and makes the Woman’s determination clearer when it becomes apparent how long she has been searching for her missing daughter.

Darlin’ is an enthralling mix of incisive social commentary and unapologetic violence that surpasses its predecessor with more to say about issues of abuse, autonomy, religion, homophobia and misogyny, and most strongly suggests that the very least women deserve is to simply be left alone to live their lives without interference.

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