One of the strangest horror trilogies to come out in the last 20 years is the one based on three novels by Jack Ketchum (may he rest in peace). These three novels are rather graphic and tackle social issues by assessing the story of some uncivilised people who encounter the “civilised” world.
Jack Ketchum’s books have been adapted to the silver screen with three movies: Offspring (2009), which I consider to be a messy modern exploitation flick, The Woman (2011), a pretty great film that’s both very out-there and socially relevant, and now Darlin’. The latest instalment in the trilogy, directed by Pollyanna McIntosh who also reprises her role as ‘The Woman’, is available on VOD (and DVD) from July 12th.
The story picks up a few years after the ending of The Woman (which I’m not going to spoil, but I’d strongly suggest you check it out!), when feral teenager Darlin’ is brought to a Catholic hospital and then transferred to a care home run by a bishop and his nuns. They want to educate the girl and turn her into a ‘society-acceptable’ person: The Woman, who raised her for many years, wants to take her back no matter what it takes.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Darlin’ (2019)
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The Woman raised the bar pretty high for this sequel, as the 2011 movie is now considered something like a cult horror flick. Despite my love for the movie directed by Lucky McKee, The Woman had some flaws (mainly related to score and characters) that Darlin’ tried to improve upon.
After a rusty start caused by McIntosh’s inexperience behind the camera, with a few sequences that don’t play out well and feel very clumsy, Darlin’ picks up in terms of direction: the cinematography is very creative and purposely polished, which helps widening the movie’s universe and a story that takes place in different locations. Whether a scene is set outside or indoors, camera-work and lighting are always on spot, bringing the world to life and making the audience experience it as realistic. As a viewer, you can tell how Pollyanna McIntosh improves as a director with every scene, showcasing a talent behind the camera that really surprises and raises hope for future projects.
The score is, also, a huge improvement upon The Woman: the misplaced music from the 2011 movie is replaced by atmospheric and eerie tracks that feel much more appropriate for the tone Darlin’ is going for.
The story, however, is rather disappointing – mostly in the way it’s presented. My friend Jimmy described it as “meandering”, which I consider to be the best definition. During the first 40 minutes of Darlin’, the movie feels all over the place: in the attempt at combining the two storylines (The Woman’s and Darlin’s), the narrative becomes sloppy and confusing, in such a way that prevents proper character development.
As a result of this struggle with creating a coherent narrative, the characters come off as one-dimensional and sometimes cartoonish (like the super sleazy bishop). The acting doesn’t help either, as every performance feels one-note and extremely wooden, with the exception of McIntosh as The Woman (fantastic as usual), Lauryn Canny as Darlin’ (very sympathetic performance) and Nora-Jane Noone from The Decent who brought a lot to her character.
Although I respect the filmmaking decision to go a different route than The Woman, Darlin’ largely loses what horror fans most look for: genuine tension and fear. The Woman wasn’t a scary flick in the traditional sense, but featured an overall dreadful atmosphere, some extremely off-putting sequences and an all-out gory finale. Darlin’ has these elements as well, but they’re rather far apart from one another: the ending is, also, quite tame in comparison to what the film built up to and what the audience were expecting.
When such important aspects are watered down quite a bit, the social commentary this film tries to deliver end up being toned down as a consequence. The criticism to religious institutions appears to be very obvious and in-your-face, losing the impact that comes with subtlety; the feminist angle is nearly forgotten here, as opposed to being the main underlaying focus like it was in the previous film.
Still, some brutal sequences partially make up for these issues and, as I said above, the way Darlin’ looks and sounds is rather pleasant. Another positive surprise is represented by the comic relief: despite the overall bleak vibe, McIntosh inserted a few subtle and unexpected comedic sequences that, for once, truly work.
If you’re a big fan of The Woman, like I am, Darlin’ will probably disappoint you. However, it really isn’t a bad film: as a first-time director, Pollyanna McIntosh shows some real talent here and, most of all, understands how a good movie should look. Although the story could’ve been told much better and some of the characters should’ve been written with more care, Darlin’ redeems itself with cool practical effects, nice visuals, good soundtrack and a couple of powerful scenes.
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