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DARLIN’ (2019)

Directed by Pollyanna McIntosh
Written by Pollyanna McIntosh, Jack Ketchum, Lucky McKee
Starring Pollyanna McIntosh, Lauryn Canny, Cooper Andrews, Nora-Jane Noone, Peyton Wich, Bryan Batt, Jeff Pope, Eugenie Bondurant, Mackenzie Graham, Lauren Ashley Carter, Sabrina Gennarino, Charlie Talbert, Thomas Francis Murphy, Damon Lipari, Maddie Nichols, Carol Sutton, Carl Palmer, Autumn Walker, Kristina Arntz, Catherine Sewell

The Woman herself from Lucky McKee’s controversial masterpiece THE WOMAN returns to direct and star in the film’s direct sequel DARLIN’. While the film doesn’t reach the heights of it’s predecessor, DARLIN’ proves to be a film with quite a ferocious bite and it’s bound to get under the skin and infect those of the faint of heart.

After surviving the harrowing events of THE WOMAN, the Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her sole surviving adoptive offspring (dubbed Darlin’ due to a bracelet on her arm and played excellently by Lauryn Canny) find themselves at the doors of a hospital. After the Woman urges Darlin’ to enter, the feral child is captured, drugged, and dropped off at the local foster home run by the benevolent Bishop (Bryan Batt). Darlin’ is to be his pet project to tame and convert to Christianity in hopes of notoriety and finding for his church. Assigned to a nun (THE DESCENT’s Nora-Jane Noone), Darlin’ is expected to basically learn how to be a proper little girl. Meanwhile, the Woman is dead set on getting her daughter back and leaves a trail of carnage in her wake.

DARLIN’ is a worthy sequel to THE WOMAN, a film I hold in high regard and placed it at the top of my Year’s Best list when it came out. As proven in the two previous Ketchum adaptations (THE WOMAN and the less effective, but fun THE OFFSPRING), Pollyanna McIntosh exemplified feminine rage in her portrayal of the Woman. In this film, she takes on and shreds all forms of patriarchal stereotypes such as the Church, the police, and the medical field. DARLIN’ itself also deals with body image, peer pressure, rape, abuse, the disregard for the homeless, and even touches upon the media. And I think that’s where the film suffers as I think it takes on a little too much, only representing each hurdle for the Woman, Darlin’ and womankind with broad stereotypes. I think had the story focused more upon one or two aspects, it would have felt more on target. As is, the main focus here is on the hypocrisy and dangers of the church and I wish McIntosh would have saved some of the other hot button topics for latter films (as I hope there will be more of them set in this cinematic universe).

The strength in DARLIN’ comes from the exceptional cast. As always, McIntosh steals the show as the confident and snarling Woman. Every dangerous bit that we saw in THE WOMAN is here in DARLIN’ and she is given much more victims to gnash her teeth into here. But the real treat is seeing Lauryn Canny’s transformation from feral child to inquisitive fledgling to debutante during the span of this film. Canny is able to channel both the innocence and openness of a child as well as the savagery of a caged beast. This is a movie about being manipulated into being something that you are not and Canny depicts that with a style that is beyond her years. There are other standout performances such as THE WALKING DEAD’s Cooper Andrews as a compassionate nurse, THE DESCENT’s Nora-Jane Noone as a nun with a secret past, and Massie Nichols as one of the troubled teens at the orphanage that befriends Darlin. All of them, great performances. Of course, representing the true evil is Bryan Batt as the Bishop who right off the bat shares the same kind of wholesome on the outside/rotten in the middle vibe Sean Bridgers had as the antagonist in THE WOMAN.

There are some pretty heinous scenes throughout the woman as this is an adaptation to a novella that served as the sequel to Ketchum’s THE WOMAN. Director Lucky McKee said he felt too uncomfortable to adapt this story and if you’ve seen THE WOMAN, you’ll know McKee isn’t afraid of going into dark, dark territory. And while the story of DARLIN’ ventures into some twisted areas, it is the psychological horror and uncomfortable feelings that will get you here. Don’t get me wrong, there are some gnarly effects going on (all practical and gory), but the general tone of this one is going to make you squirm more than the blood and guts. DARLIN’ is a real accomplishment for first time director McIntosh. She is able to continue a lot of that uneasy blend of the grotesque savagery of the Woman with a life of normalcy hiding menace just below the surface. If you’re a fan of THE WOMAN and the late great Jack Ketchum’s work, I think you’ll find DARLIN’ to be a worthy tribute and sequel. Here’s hoping there will be more horrifying adventures of the Woman. DARLIN is truly one gnarly mind-shredder.