Pollyanna McIntosh should stay on your radar, but the actress’ directorial debut is underwhelming.
Following in the footsteps of two prior quasi-related horror films, actress Pollyanna McIntosh moves from in front of the camera to the directorâs chair for Darlinâ, a curious genre experiment further expanding the confines of a tenuous franchise. Based on Jack Ketchumâs novels, the last two films in this âseries,â 2009âs Offspring and 2011âs 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. Darlinâ features McIntosh reprising her role on screen but ceding the filmâs spotlight to her characterâs daughter, for whom the film is named.
When we meet Darlinâ (Lauryn Canny), sheâs 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!âs Cooper Andrews) or monstrous charlatans like the Bishop (played with scenery-chewing aplomb by âMad Menââs Bryan Batt). The churchâs 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, thereâs 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 theyâve never seen the other films and only have an understanding of them from Wikipedia summaries, this new feature doesnât feel standalone enough to, well, stand entirely on its own.
Itâs 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 sheâs 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, itâs difficult to tell when weâre supposed to be laughing at how broadly drawn the characters are or when weâre 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 Darlinâ is otherwise underwhelming.