Darlin’ (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Darlin' Lauryn Canny Pollyanna McIntosh

PLOT: A teenage member of a tribe of feral cannibals ends up in a girls care home run by the Catholic church… and her mother figure wants her back.

REVIEW: Pollyanna McIntosh first played a feral cannibal known only as "The Woman" in Andrew van den Houten's 2009 film OFFSPRING, an adaptation of a novel written by Jack Ketchum. The film was underwhelming, but McIntosh delivered such an impressive performance in the role that the wise decision was made during production that The Woman needed to return for a sequel. Directed by Lucky McKee, who wrote the screenplay (and an accompanying novel) with Ketchum, that follow-up was titled THE WOMAN, and was such a messed-up, disturbing movie that the gut-munching title character turned out to be the hero by the end of it. Eight years later, The Woman is back in DARLIN' (WATCH IT HERE), which was written and directed by McIntosh herself, and I find it to be very cool that she chose to bring this character back for her feature writing and directing debut.

Unlike OFFSPRING and THE WOMAN, Ketchum was not involved with the crafting of the story for DARLIN', this was purely a McIntosh original, although Ketchum did give the project his blessing and was able to visit the set before he passed away in January of 2018. Having read his cannibal series, it does seem unlikely to me that The Woman would ever do what she does at the beginning of this film, which is seek the help of the civilized world by bringing the title character to a hospital, especially when she doesn't seem to have a life-threatening ailment. But the set-up does open the door for DARLIN' to be a different sort of movie than THE WOMAN, as that was a different sort of movie than OFFSPRING, so at least this franchise isn't just "cannibals attack the civilized folk" over and over.

Viewers who have seen THE WOMAN may remember that Darlin' was the name of a little girl The Woman brought into her lifestyle at the end of that film, along with a couple other characters. Now a teenager, Darlin' is played by Lauryn Canny, and while the movie will address exactly why she was brought to the hospital and what happened to the other survivors of THE WOMAN, it's going to make you wonder for a while. Those answers don't come until more than an hour into DARLIN's 101 minutes.

Up to that point, we follow Darlin' as the hospital hands her over to St. Philomena's Group Home for Girls, where Sister Jennifer (Nora-Jane Noone), who grew up in the home herself, works with the feral girl in an effort to get her to start speaking. Best known to genre fans for her role in THE DESCENT, Noone made her screen debut in the 2002 film THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, which dug into the horrific experiences women had at the Catholic-run Magdalene asylums, so it's interesting that McIntosh cast her in another film that deals with the dark side of the church. 

Sister Jennifer isn't an antagonistic character, but the Bishop (Bryan Batt) who runs Philomena's certainly is, and obviously is from the moment we meet him. His primary goal with Darlin' is to make a show of this "feral child converted by God's love" so Philomena's won't lose its funding. He'll even go so far as to play up how feral she is, like telling Sister Jennifer to put some dirt on the girl for a video he's shooting. And yeah, it's no surprise that this guy also molests the girls who are in his care. Batt very effectively makes the Bishop thoroughly unlikeable even before we're shown how much of a scumbag he really is.

As the title indicates, DARLIN' is much more focused on Darlin' than it is on The Woman, and Canny does some incredible work as the character. Darlin' evolves over the course of the film, going from being a wild child who can only growl and thrash to re-learning how to speak and becoming a sweet innocent we can sympathize with. She makes friends, finds religion, and begins to believe that the devil is literally inside her, while the Bishop takes advantage of her naivety. By the end we've come to care for Darlin' and hope this situation will turn out well for her.

And just like in THE WOMAN, we start rooting for The Woman to give characters some violent, gory comeuppance. There's an unexpected, incongruous humor to The Woman's side of the story here. She obviously expected Darlin' to be released from the hospital rather quickly, and when she finds that the girl is gone she goes searching for her – a search that includes a car ride, during which The Woman sticks her head out the window and enjoys the wind like a dog. More goofiness enters the picture when The Woman befriends a group of off-kilter homeless women.

In the time between THE WOMAN and DARLIN', McIntosh played a character on several episodes of The Walking Dead. She cast some of her Walking Dead co-stars in this film, most notably Cooper Andrews as Tony, a nurse who starts to care for Darlin' even before the audience does. Andrews plays one of my favorite characters on The Walking Dead, and he makes Tony a very endearing guy, too.

Darlin' Pollyanna McIntosh

McIntosh cast her film exceptionally well, and the cast's performances make DARLIN' interesting to watch even when the story isn't exactly enthralling. The pace of the film is odd and meandering, and it isn't always clear what exactly the point of some of the scenes are. There is an aspect of social commentary to it, but in the end it feels kind of empty, like it all could have simply been a set-up for the sight gag of Holy Communion, the offering to consume the "body of Christ", turning into an opportunity for a cannibal to have a snack.

The cast does their best with the material, but can't get DARLIN' higher than just being a decent, middle-of-the-road movie. It's a step up from OFFSPRING, but not on the level of THE WOMAN. Now someone needs to get around to making an adaptation of the first novel in Ketchum's cannibal series, OFF SEASON. In the right hands, an OFF SEASON movie could be awesome.

Dark Sky Films will be giving DARLIN' a VOD and limited theatrical release on July 12th.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.