Darlin' Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by MPI Media
Written and directed by Pollyanna McIntosh
2019, 100 minutes, Not Yet Rated
FrightFest English premiere on 26th August 2019
Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman
Lauryn Canny as Darlin'
Bryan Batt as The Bishop
Cooper Andrews as Tony
Horror actress Pollyanna McIntosh has slowly but surely been making Jack Ketchum’s Off Season series her own, graduating from a part in the adaptation Offspring to taking the lead role in Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Now, finally, this. Darlin’ marks the directorial debut of McIntosh, the third chapter in the most unlikely of horror trilogies.
Like The Woman, it’s nothing like the film that preceded it. Captured in the wilderness and hospitalized, feral teenager ‘Darlin’ is sent off to a care home run by a sinister Bishop and his obedient nuns. While Darlin’ struggles to adapt to ‘civilisation’ and the Bishop’s pious cruelties, The Woman is hot on her trail. If, that is, she can stop getting sidetracked by a series of fish-out-of-water calamities.
Unlike the oppressively horrible The Woman, there’s a lightness of touch to Darlin’, which is as much coming-of-age drama as it is a horror film about a feral cannibal who bites folks’ faces off. Tonally, it still works next to its predecessor and the characters as created by Jack Ketchum, but nor is it yet another rape-heavy exercise in torture and misery. Its villains are more rounded and layered, the story textured and humanist. And, of course, with the Catholic Church as its big bad, there’s still plenty of room for musing on the nature of civilisation and ‘true’ savagery.
This may be off-putting to the extreme horror fans who previously lapped up McKee and Ketchum’s controversies, but this thoughtful sequel still delivers the goods when the time comes, both in bizarre nightmare sequences and artery-chomping bursts of The Woman-hood. Its ‘real’ villain might not be as pantomime-level awful as The Woman’s Chris Cleek, but viewers will be left eager to see him dismembered and digested nevertheless. This brand of violent misogyny and exploitation is more subtle, but no less potent. It's both a touching tribute to the late, great Jack Ketchum, a solid sequel and a work of horror which stands on its own merits to boot. The final act may be a little on the nose, but it's not as though this franchise about woodland cannibals and rapists was ever particularly subtle.
Playing The Bishop with a punchable righteousness, Bryan Batt gives the film its excellent villain, but the film rightfully does belong to its women (and The Walking Dead co-star Cooper Andrews, following up Shazam! with another lovely dad-type role). Lauryn Canny is a revelation as young Darlin’, and she ably shoulders the film’s most meaty role by herself. McIntosh is remarkably generous to her stars, largely sidelining The Woman and using her only in short, effective bursts (including the film’s big laugh-out-loud sequence, involving The Woman and a car).
Darlin’ is an impressive debut from one of horror cinema’s most original voices, marking its writer and director as a talent to be reckoned with, not just in front of the camera, but behind it too.
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