A few years ago, at the urging of friends in the horror community, I decided to check out Lucky McKee’s 2011 horror film, The Woman. To say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into would be an understatement as I could have never prepared my eyes for the onslaught of violence (both physical and sexual) against The Woman, nor the absolute hatred and rage I developed towards Chris Creek, played brilliantly by Sean Bridgers. Now we have a follow-up to The Woman from the Woman herself, Pollyanna McIntosh, in her directorial debut DARLIN’.
Written and directed by McIntosh, the film stars McIntosh (The Walking Dead), Bryan Batt (AMC’s Mad Men), Lauryn Canny (TV’s Amber), Nora-Jane Noone (The Descent) and Cooper Andrews (The Walking Dead). For those not familiar with the plot it’s as follows: “Found at a Catholic hospital filthy and ferocious, feral teenager Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) is whisked off to a care home run by The Bishop (Bryan Batt) and his obedient nuns where she is to be tamed into a ‘good girl.’ However, Darlin’ holds a secret darker than the ‘sins’ she is threatened with, and she is not traveling alone. The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh), equally fierce and feral, who raised her is ever present and is determined to come for her no matter who tries to step in her way.” (Dark Sky Films)
The film opens in a wooded area where we are reunited with The Woman and what we are led to believe is her daughter, Darlin’. We quickly find out that The Woman is leading Darlin’ to a hospital, for what reason… well, that comes later. Once in the care of the hospital staff, we are introduced to Tony (Cooper Andrews), a kind and compassionate nurse who tries to communicate and understand Darlin’s feral behavior. However, the entire tone of the film shifts when we are introduced to The Bishop (Bryan Batt) who sees an opportunity to reform Darlin’ and use her as a pawn to convince the Church to give him more money. It’s when Darlin’ is subsequently sent to St. Philomena’s that the film begins to pick up as Darlin’ begins to understand true human interactions as she comes into her own while The Woman sets off on a mission to find where Darlin’ has been taken too. As secrets are revealed and the behavior of the Bishop gets worse, the movie climaxes with a bloody ending that no one is safe from.
Though DARLIN’ didn’t have as much of an impact on me as The Woman did, it doesn’t mean that the film didn’t pack quite a punch. I’m a sucker for religious horror – it’s terrifying to me the length that those in the Church are willing to go in pursuit of their own selfish desires. The Church should be a place of sanctuary, not a place of judgment, persecution, and greed. Inserting that theme into DARLIN’ allowed for the movie to have an even more terrifying subtext. Throughout the movie, there was a feeling of uneasiness – especially when it came to Darlin’ learning about who she is as a person. The moments with the Bishop are by far the most unsettling and reminded me a lot of The Woman‘s Chris Creek. His treatment towards not only Darlin’ but the other young women in his care is based around power and servitude. It’s a reminder that even in this day and age, women are still questioned and attacked for who they are regardless of them being feral or a self-described “good girl”.
It was definitely nice to see Pollyanna McIntosh return as The Woman, the role she made famous in both Offspring and The Woman, but the true breakaway star was that of Lauryn Canny who plays the role of Darlin. Not only does she encapsulate a ferocity that few can, but she also embodies a naivety that makes it easy to sympathize with her. I enjoyed watching her story arc, no matter how hard it was at the time. Furthermore, the villainous character in question, the Bishop, is played in such a dislikable and disgusting way, which is a testament to Bryan Batt’s performance. However, where there are bad people, there are also good ones, which we see in Cooper Andrews’ role as Tony, the caring male nurse who has experienced just how bad Philomena’s is due to their stance on homosexuality and once being in their care. One of the strongest aspects of this film is by far the performances. When I talked to Pollyanna about the film, she raved about how lucky she was to have the actors she did, and she couldn’t be more correct about that.
In all, I enjoyed DARLIN’. I have to give McIntosh a lot of credit for taking on so many roles and wearing multiple hats. Following in the footsteps of Jack Ketchum requires filling some big shoes and though she doesn’t quite blow it away, she does extend the legacy of Ketchum’s characters and overall story in a respectful manner. If anything, DARLIN’ makes me excited to see what directing choices she makes in the future. Additionally, I think we are about to see Lauryn turn into a huge star in the next few years through her immense talent and powerful performances. As with any indie film, there’s bound to be bumps in the road, but I think fans of Offspring and The Woman will be happy to see the continuation of The Woman and her offspring… see what I did there?? DARLIN’ is now available in select theaters and on VOD. To learn more, read my interview with Pollyanna McIntosh here.