July 12, 2019 Darlin’ (Movie Review)
Labeled as “the scariest man in America” by the acclaimed Master of Horror Stephen King, Jack Ketchum (the pen name for Dallas Mayr) is responsible for writing some of the most horrifically cruel and realistically violent fiction novels – many of which were later made into equally brilliant film adaptations. One particular series of novels he wrote, with the help of Lucky McGee, focused on a violent clan of inbred cannibals that roamed the Northeast. It was from this series that the 2009 film Offspring, and later the 2011 spin-off film The Woman, were birthed. Now follows its direct sequel Darlin’, which is set to hit select theaters and VOD on Friday, July 12th via Dark Sky Films.
Before Ketchum’s unfortunate passing in January 2018, the stunning Pollyanna McIntosh (Exam 2009, The Walking Dead series), whose portrayal of The Woman has been nothing short of remarkable, was given his official blessing to continue the storyline. Darlin’ picks up where The Woman left off, and was amazingly written, directed, and starred in by McIntosh herself. It is also worth noting that this intriguing female-dominated, American Horror movie was produced by Hood River Entertainment.
With McIntosh behind the reins, she was able to put together a rather inspired cast, which consists primarily of Lauryn Canny (Amber series, 1,000 Times Goodnight 2013) as the conflicted, feral, and ferocious teenager, Darlin; Bryan Batt (Mad Men series, 12 Years a Slave 2013) as the feared and malefic man of the cloth, The Bishop; Nora-Jane Noone (The Magdalene Sisters 2002, The Descent 2005) as the good and hesitantly abiding nun, Sister Jennifer; and Cooper Andrews (The Walking Dead series, Shazam 2019) as the attentive and caring nurse, Tony; among many other strong, yet vulnerable, female characters who were very well played.
In addition to its great cast, McIntosh also gives a uniquely feminine twist and more nurturing evolution to a storyline that originally began so sinisterly. Here, the story begins with Darlin’ (Canny) being hit by an ambulance in front of a Catholic hospital, and thereafter, being taken in to be treated; only to escape and run wild amidst the place. Fascinated by the newborn babies, she drops her guard and is approached by cautious but kind nurse, Tony (Andrews), whom she forges a brief but impactful connection with before being sedated by a thoughtless ER doctor.
Upon making a full recovery, she is sent to a girls’ home run by the church and controlled by The Bishop (Batt). Hot on her trail is the mother she has grown to know and love, The Woman (McIntosh), who saved her nearly a decade ago from her unbelievably broken and harmful home. As Sister Jennifer (Noone) continues to work to “civilize” Darlin’, one life-altering decision soon becomes apparent to her: will she conform and adapt to a way of life she hardly remembers, or return to the wilds and freedom of the life she has come to know and understand over the years?
This film, like any others, had its bright spots and those that could have been a little brighter, but that is to be expected. Though it may have been a bit of a slow burn, and kind of disappointing in the realism of the gore (as it was nowhere near the severity or intensity it was in the original), Darlin’ did interestingly touch on ideals and situations which were geared directly towards women and their relatable and yet often unrealized struggles. While it did increase in areas like body count, other aspects of Horror were slightly diminished and left a bit to be desired, especially with the concept of escalation in a sequel having come to be expected.
With that being said, the exact circumstances of this film are likely foreign to the vast majority of humanity, but the theme of being an outsider and trying to connect with and integrate into a world you cannot understand was something that could very much resonate with a plethora of people. It helped viewers sympathize and empathize with characters that were misunderstood monsters, when in reality, it was the real monsters which were busy hiding in plain sight that you need fear the most.
Other relevant themes included addiction, homelessness, sexual assault, the negative impact of religion and the corruption which lies within it, learning to adapt outside of our comfort zone, conformity, the abuse of authority, rebirth, renewal of spirit, and even loss of faith. And the fact that these conflicts were revealed from the female perspective made it that much more of an eye-opening and emotional experience, especially when complimented by the film’s score and the actors’ and actresses’ performances.
With The Woman, there was almost this light-hearted darkness that canopied the film and immersed viewers into an almost visceral nightmare-quality experience, while McIntosh’s follow-up has more of a dark lightheartedness that makes it appear as its predecessor’s equal, but also its opposite in the realm of the reaction it incurred. That is not to take anything away from it, just to say that it reaches viewers on a level that is seldom achieved in Horror, one which blurs the line between villains, victims, and victors. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Darlin’ 3 out of 5 stars.