Anyone who knows me or has read my PopHorror bio knows that I love everything about Lucky McKee’s (read our interview with him here) film, The Woman (2011), which was based on the Off Season book series by the late Jack Ketchum. This cannibalistic gem is actually a sequel to Andrew van den Houten’s (Jug Face 2013, The Ranger 2018 – read our review here) 2009 film, Offspring. Not only are these brutal, discomfited films on the surface, but they also spotlight the arrogance of men and the power of women, which is something I, a woman, can relate to. There’s also the comparison between predatory, civilized humans and animalistic, food-driven ferals, and how much they actually have in common. Plus, the soundtrack by Sean Spillane is AMAZING!
So, when I heard that Pollyanna McIntosh, the actress who played The Woman in the first two films, was directing a sequel called Darlin’, I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to see how her story continued, and find out what happened to her and the girls when they left the Cleek farm.
A direct sequel to 2011’s The Woman. A feral teenage girl is taken into strict Catholic church care and prepared for her First Holy Communion.
Not only did Pollyanna McIntosh write and direct Darlin’, but she also brought The Woman back to life in front of the camera. Andrew van den Houten hopped on the Offspring train once again as a producer, and even took a small role as a photojournalist Charlie in the film. Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum acted as executive producers, while the music was composed by Ali Helnwein (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 2016, The Gaze 2018 – read our review here).The SFX were created by Spectrum Effects’ Matt Kutcher, Donnie Dean, Chris Bailey and Louis G. Vado Jr. (Scream: The TV Series, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 2014), as well as Johnny Bullard (Last Call 2013), Charles “Chuck” Lucia (American Horror Story TV series) and Deepwater Horizon’s William Spataro and Kristal Shannon.
“She looks too clean. Perhaps we should dirty her up a bit…”
Besides Pollyanna McIntosh, Darlin’ stars Lauryn Canny (The von Trapp Family: A Life Of Music 2015), Nora-Jane Noone (The Descent 2005), The Walking Dead’s Cooper Andrews, Bryan Batt (Mad Men TV series), Lauren and Ashley Gobuzzi (Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser 2015), Mackenzie Graham (Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase 2019), Maddie Nichols (The Purge TV series) and Eugenie Bondurant (The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay – Part 2 2015). There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Lauren Ashley Carter (read our interview with her here), who played Peggy Cleek in the previous film.
What Works In Darlin’
Dedicated to the late Jack Ketchum AKA Dallas Mayr, Darlin’ begins with one of the most gorgeous, earthy, haunting opening scenes I have ever seen. Speckled with deep, red blood, two pairs of bare feet step through white snow and sink into the fecund, black earth, their very touch inspiring 12″ mushrooms – phallus thallus, if you will – to grow, wither and die in seconds. This short bit of film brings to the forefront the intense power of women and their innate affinity towards all things natural, setting the viewer up in the exact place they need to be to view this film.
Darlin’ is also a trip through the many faces of motherhood: from caring and nurturing to behaving in society to being protective to basic human needs to friendship and all the way to survival in its simplest form. Everyone tries to mother Darlin’ (Canny) – we know she’s the now grown Cleek daughter from The Woman because she wears the same bracelet – but the 16-year-old can’t be bothered with any of it… at least at first. However, once she learns the ways of basic human interaction, she longs to please the people who have stepped up, unaware that not everyone has her best interests at heart.
The cinematography throughout the film is gorgeous. I love the bland, muted, off-white tones of everything around Darlin’, making the red of her hair, pink of her cheeks and the blue of her eyes stand out from everything else. Lauryn Canny does a fantastic job as the titular character, perfectly portraying the newly minted Catholic girl as one that can go feral again at the drop of a hat. Her clear, innocent face turns savage at the slightest gesture. When she confesses to the Bishop about her barbaric life with The Woman – the only thing she had known since she was a tiny girl – her stuttering voice tells her disturbing, repulsive tale so flawlessly that I felt my own gag reflex twitching. When you attempt to civilize a teenage feral cannibal, who wins? Speaking of The Woman, I loved seeing her again and watching her tear ass through anyone in her way. She knew what she wanted and was ready to rip out some throats out to get it.
“It feels like a sin to eat when they smell of love… Was I bad to eat?”
There are other great characters in this film. I felt the most for Nurse Tony (Cooper), who only wanted Darlin’ to be safe and happy. He is the only one who cares for Darlin’ unconditionally. The women in the homeless camp, especially Mona (Bondurant), are deliciously crazy and a fun part of the story. I was also excited to see Andrew van den Houten (producer of Darlin’, The Woman, Jug Face (2013), director of Offspring) making a cameo as Photojournalist Charlie, right next to a woman who looked suspiciously like Felissa Rose…
The Bishop (Batt) is a most disgusting creature, a silver-tongued predator who not only twists the truth so that he can to get what he wants, but also “punishes” the orphans in the Catholic Girls’ Home by degrading, undressing and raping them as he sees fit. He trains and refines Darlin’, not because he feels it is his Christian duty to protect and help her, but because he thinks he can sell her story for money, which will score him points with the higher ups to keep his church from being closed down. He is a nasty, repugnant character, one you just love to hate.
Lastly, I have to mention the amazing poster art for Darlin’. There’s so much going on.
Watch Darlin’ now on Amazon!
What Doesn’t Work In Darlin’
Despite all of the aspects that I love about Darlin’, I was sorely disappointed in the end product. After experiencing the black, gritty perversion of Offspring and The Woman, this film offers up a much tamer tale, one I would call a drama with bloody aspects rather than a straight up horror film. I was looking forward to this sequel for months, thinking I was going to get a taste of the violent, gritty, disgusting, bloodthirsty cannibals that I was used to seeing in this franchise, and instead, I got a coming-of-age film about a girl trying to find her way in society. Sure, people die and even get eaten, but that aspect is not the driving force of this film, which is such a letdown. I was also disappointed at the heavy-handedness of the Catholic Church hate. While I do realize that there have been some infuriating, lewd and even wicked acts associated with the religion, I felt like McIntosh tried a bit too hard to make almost all of the characters associated with it rude, mean and downright evil.
I am also annoyed that The Woman, my beloved antihero who has survived her family’s massacre, being kidnapped, chained to a barn wall and forced to do things no woman should have to do, only to show up in Darlin’ hanging her head out the window of a car, lapping the air like a dog. She was turned into a humorous character, the one thing I can’t stomach. She’s also much more worldly, learning how to hide bodies, wear sunglasses, shoot a guns and make her way through society without fear or mistake. Sure, she can’t talk, but she manages to band together with a posse of homeless women and take on the church. One minute, she’s methodically slashing up a hospital full of people, and the next, she’s cowering in the bushes because she’s afraid of cars. A person born, raised and thriving in the deep woods, she suddenly feels the urge to send her protege to the doctor for a checkup? It was crushing to see one of my all-time favorite characters be made into a confusing joke.
The final nail in the coffin… there was no Sean Spillane to be heard. The soundtrack is moderate and forgetful. Not one song rose above to be remembered once the final credits rolled. One of the best parts of The Woman was left out of this sequel, and it saddened me so.
Watch Darlin’ now on Amazon!
Despite the glorious opening scene and the glimmers of light and blood, Darlin’ is a disappointing sequel to The Woman. As a standalone film, it works very well, despite the uneven character portrayal of the original female cannibal badass. I also feel that the taming of the feral creature plotline is too similar to the previous film. Both The Woman and Darlin’ are about men trying to turn women into their idea of beauty and perfection and the strength of those women to remain who they really are, which is inspiring to say the least. If you go into Darlin‘ wanting to see little girls get ruined by the Catholic church and trying to find her way in the world despite some horrifying throwbacks, then you’ll probably love it. But if you are expecting to see The Woman 2.0, you’ll be sadly mistaken.
This review of Darlin’ was for the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival. It will next screen at Frightfest in August.