It is no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I am a huge fan of The Woman. When news of a sequel, helmed by star of the film Pollyanna McIntosh, landed I was fully on board and Darlin represents a very different, but welcome addition to the series.
Synopsis: Found at a Catholic hospital filthy and ferocious, feral teenager Darlin’ is whisked off to a care home run by The Bishop and his obedient nuns, where she’s to be rehabilitated into a “good girl” as an example of the miraculous work of the church. But Darlin’ holds a secret darker than the “sins” she is threatened with, and she is not traveling alone. The Woman who raised her, equally fierce and feral, is ever present in the shadows of Darlin’s psyche and is determined to come for her no matter who tries to get in her way.
Taking on a sequel to a film which so many hold in high-regard cannot be easy. Add to this that Darlin is Pollyanna McIntosh’s directorial debut and those stakes are even higher. It is then, to her credit, that McIntosh imbues Darlin with a great difference in tone to Lucky McKee’s grim, nihilistic handling of the story within The Woman. It would be incredibly difficult to match that level of intensity and the story here demands a different handling of the material. During a post-screening Q&A at Frightfest McIntosh acknowledged that she couldn’t make a Lucky McKee film and this shows a serious amount of maturity as a director and creator. If you watch Darlin’ expecting The Woman 2, you will undoubtedly be disappointed, but Darlin’ is a thoroughly enjoyable film which mixes a great deal of heart with it’s commentary.
Lauren Canny as Darlin is doing excellent work. Taking up the mantle of the character we see leave her home as part of a new family at the end of The Woman is no small task, especially when the role calls for her to play the character as she moves from feral to ‘trained’. It is an incredible performance with a huge amount of heart and it is impossible not to feel immense amounts of sympathy for a character we’ve seen evolve over two films. Also adding heart are the group of girls who she finds within the church who evolve from mocking and fearing her to accepting her and sharing things with her, resulting in some genuinely uplifting moments. There is a small, but important role for Cooper Andrews as Tony, a nurse who is tasked with the early care for Darlin and expresses his concerns about the church’s influence on the care he is able to provide. His empathetic performance begins with him emulating dog behaviour to win Darlin’s trust and his interest in her progress continues throughout the film. Pollyanna McIntosh reprises her role as The Woman and there are interesting comedic tinges to the role this time around as she is able to wield more power and influence than in the previous outing. Bryan Batt is suitably sinister and slimy as the Bishop and his interactions with Nora-Jane Noone’s perfectly-pitched, troubled nun Sister Jennifer are loaded with tension and deep emotion.
The great cast assembled work well with the material here. Darlin’ is a far more hopeful film than it’s predecessor in many ways (although I’d argue The Woman is not devoid of any hope). Again, The Woman is removed from her chosen habitat and encounters the wider world. This time, instead of being held captive, she is free to explore more of the world and as a result, comes into contact with more interesting and diverse people who accept her. This allows for a few more playful moments with her trying to figure out the modern world and while this won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s very telling of McIntosh’s desire to make her own film, which is far more enjoyable than watching someone create a copy of an earlier film. Her journey to be reunited with Darlin, while Darlin experiences a new sense of community is absorbing and frequently touching. The greater emotional weight doesn’t mean that the commentary is any less muted and the agenda of the church’s more self-serving characters act as the film’s overarching enemy. Darlin’s fears about The Woman, her previous life and her lack of understanding about her body take focus in flashbacks, gradually building a picture of her experience since The Woman.
The film is incredibly well-paced because the switching between the characters means we’re rarely in one place for too long and the run time feels like it flies by. All the characters are given suitable moments to express more depth and this makes it feel very well-rounded. McIntosh has done a very good job in taking and updating the existing characters in addition to making new and interesting additions. She did make a comment at the post-screening Q&A that she hoped a further instalment would be taken on by someone else within the cast of this film, given her history with what can now be seen as a franchise. This feels like such a good opportunity for numerous people to insert their voices into one story and take those characters on different journeys and there are plenty of directions to take it in.
Darlin is a deeply thoughtful film that retains its anger under a steady stream of hopeful characters. Make sure to stick around for the end of the credits for a really sweet extra scene.
Darlin is currently available through Dark Sky Films in the US. A UK distribution deal has yet to be announced.