Pollyanna McIntosh has carved a place for herself in horror cinema, usually in titles that stray from the norm and frighten you with twisted, subtle reality. She co-starred in Offspring and its sequel The Woman before appearing in Let Us Prey, Tales of Halloween and Blood Ride. Most recently, she’s been reoccurring in AMC’s hit zombie series “The Walking Dead” as Jadis (now Anne), and with this kind of big role comes a certain level of confidence. Pollyanna has become so sure of herself, in fact, that she took on the job of writing and directing a sequel to Offspring and The Woman; culminating in a dark religious drama titled Darlin’. Serving as McIntosh’s debut behind the camera, Darlin’ finds the title character, a feral teenager, wandering into a Catholic hospital where she is subdued by orderlies and whisked away to a Catholic school for girls run by a seedy Bishop and old-school nuns. There, they try to tame her into being a good girl and force her to become obedient to God, all while teaching her how to act in civilized society. But Darlin’ is carrying a dark secret, and the mother she left behind is on her trail, and she’ll kill anyone in her path that tries to stop her from taking her child home. Produced by Andrew Van Den Houten, Darlin’ stars Lauryn Canny, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Batt, Nora-Jane Noone, Cooper Andrews, Mackenzie Graham, Sabrina Gennarino and Autumn Walker.
Shot for Hood River Entertainment and MPI Media Group, Darlin’ is based on the characters by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee. As I mentioned above, Darlin’ is the continuation of a previous series and a direct sequel to 2011’s The Woman. I somehow missed this connection while promoting the film here on HorrorSociety, so much so that I was going to champion its likenesses in this review. What this translates to is the fact that Darlin’ is extremely easy to follow whether or not you’ve seen the previous entries in the series. The prior content is entirely inherent, but the gaps are easily filled in with knowledge and the basic understanding of how the horror genre works and thrives. Darlin’ feels like The Wild Child (1970) meets Terminator set against a Catholic school that feels like it was shot in a dream sequence from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 or a hospital cut from The Exorcist 2. There are distinct style choices that closely mirror The Golden Age of Horror, giving Darlin’ the cinematic appeal of the 1970’s and 1980’s while also containing a modern feel due to advances in technology. Though it’s a step forward in time from The Woman, it feels like something older and wiser, and the conclusion of a monstrous story that truly puts nature against nurturing. Of course, the primal predator that is The Woman gives Darlin’ its Terminator-like approach. Thanks to the cinematography by Halyna Hutchins and editing by Julie Garces, this title has a massive appeal to multiple generations of horror fans.
Themes discussed in Darlin’ include nature vs nurture, the importance of socializing and hitting milestones, how religion can be toxic when forced and manipulated, raising children and a woman’s birthing rights, sexuality, and violence as a tool of communication. Darlin’ is one of the most bizarre coming of age stories you’ll ever see, but you’ll still be transfixed enough to keep the movie going; although you may hit the fast forward button during its slower moments. That’s perhaps the first of my two complaints. This movie has a lot of talking and character development/dissolution and not enough of the outright gore and wit of the its predecessors. At times, it seems like this title can’t even be lumped into the horror genre because of its strong basis in religion and psychology. Darlin’ certainly won’t be for everyone, but horror viewers who can understand and contemplate a different meaning will get a kick out of this one. My second complaint is how quickly Darlin’ acclimated to her new life and learning social skills, words and other education. That would take months, if anything, and certainly not a matter of days. I know that’s being too picky, but someone as talented as Pollyanna McIntosh could have penned in a better way to remedy her progress from feral child to struggling adolescent. Too her strengths, though, I should mention that McIntosh and Lauryn Canny turned in performances that were dark and disturbing, and truly showcase the depths that some actors will go to bring a character to life. Dare I call them inspiring? I think I will!
A slow burning, female-fronted horror drama deeply based in religion and psychology, Darlin’ is a beautifully shot story and damaging experience, but it’s not quite the follow-up to its shocking and completely disturbing predecessors. So many good hits, but one big miss. I wish it went “there” more often. Find it in select theaters and on VOD July 12th 2019 courtesy of Dark Sky Films. Final Score: 6.5 out of 10.