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Darlin’

Darlin’

Pollyanna McIntosh should stay on your radar, but the actress’ directorial debut is underwhelming.

Darlin’

2 / 5

Following in the footsteps of two prior quasi-related horror films, actress Pollyanna McIntosh moves from in front of the camera to the director’s chair for Darlin’, a curious genre experiment further expanding the confines of a tenuous franchise. Based on Jack Ketchum’s novels, the last two films in this “series,” 2009’s Offspring and 2011’s The Woman, both feature McIntosh as a feral woman from a mysterious tribe of cannibals. The films have different directors and tones, but they share the common DNA of commenting on the inherent brutality of civilized society through winking contrast with the imagery of a wild woman out of her element and in new environs. Darlin’ features McIntosh reprising her role on screen but ceding the film’s spotlight to her character’s daughter, for whom the film is named.

When we meet Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny), she’s coming to in the emergency room of a church-run hospital, where all the men in power are either stoic, honorable teddy bears (like Shazam!’s Cooper Andrews) or monstrous charlatans like the Bishop (played with scenery-chewing aplomb by “Mad Men”’s Bryan Batt). The church’s boarding school takes her in and tries to indoctrinate her into modern society by way of their religious teachings, a venture that sets up plenty of blunt-force social commentary, until her mother comes into town and begins hunting through folk to get back to her child.

Along the way, there’s plenty of other weirdness and colorful characters and an ever-shifting tone between sharp satire and heavy melodrama, which is much of why the film is so hard to get into. If the audience member is already familiar with the previous films in this saga, they have better context for what sort of film this is supposed to be, but likely not much added mythological value. But if they’ve never seen the other films and only have an understanding of them from Wikipedia summaries, this new feature doesn’t feel standalone enough to, well, stand entirely on its own.

It’s clear from the staging and the storytelling that McIntosh felt, having portrayed this character across multiple films, that she could use this somewhat tired horror trope to speak about social issues she’s passionate about, censuring religious hypocrisy, patriarchal abuse and other infuriating cornerstones of modern society as firebrands to skewer. But in failing to find quite the right tone, it’s difficult to tell when we’re supposed to be laughing at how broadly drawn the characters are or when we’re meant to take a piece of sentimental dialogue seriously or as an extension of the joke.

The result is a humorously acted mishmash with a handful of stirring moments that is otherwise impenetrable and messy in a less than charming way. The cast is largely interesting and the film proves that McIntosh should stay on your radar the next time she gets a project off the ground, but Darlin’ is otherwise underwhelming.

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