Darlin’ (2019) bites likes its protagonist, but only occasionally. A vast majority of the film is just a horrendous mess.
You can call call it a hunch, but when an easily forgettable horror movie gets a sequel almost 10 years after its premiere, it raises a flag. But the adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s novel is clearly Polyanna McIntosh’s passion project. McIntosh, who also plays the film’s antagonist, reprised it for the third time already in Darlin’ (2019), following The Offspring (2009) and The Woman (2011).
But if you haven’t heard of neither of the latter two, worry no more – Darlin’ (2019) is pretty understandable without its previous chapter.
What is Darlin’ (2019) about?
In short, Darlin’ (2019) follows a ginger-hair, nameless girl (Lauryn Canny) who walks into a hospital one night. Naked to her feet, she acts strangely, as if she’s been raised out in the wilderness. After a health check is conducted, the girl is sent to a shelter run by the Catholic Church. Headmaster of the facility – called The Bishop (Bryan Batt) – sees the girl’s sudden appearance as a miracle, for he is in a major financial problem. As the mystery unfolds, it becomes clear that the girl keeps a grim secret.
McIntosh had an interesting concept on her plate in Darlin’ (2019)
There’s a strange coming-of-age story at play in Darlin’ (2019), mixed with a reflection on why the society is wilder than the wilderness itself. Furthermore, through the appalling character of The Bishop (clever, slightly over-the-top performance of Bryan Batt), McIntosh establishes the film’s conflict. What if the wilderness was actually better for Darlin?
This isn’t, sadly, what mainly attracts attention of McIntosh, because Darlin’ (2019) is technically a horror, and therefore steers far from drama. Sure, McIntosh underlines the dirty secrets of The Bishop, and even spends plenty of time digging in that area. But while The Bishop’s sleazy business is hinted to, the director dedicates more time to Darlin and her off-putting, wayfaring family member, The Woman.
The Woman and Darlin are two separate storylines
The Woman, played by Polyanna McIntosh herself, strays around, looking for Darlin after the girl leaves the hospital. But her main purpose in the narrative remains unclear. Every second scene belongs to that dark character, and her subplot finds a truly preposterous turn when she joins a feminist, homeless gang.
Darlin is also dangerously close to a caricature. Lauryn Canny’s transformation is confidently acted. The actress ranges from animalistic growls to an angelic look almost effortlessly. However, McIntosh’s tonally blind, and it is mostly echoed in how we perceive Canny’s conflicting nature. At times, her coming-of-age drama works, especially when the camera gets intimate. But, as already highlighted in this review, McIntosh strives to make Darlin’ (2019) scary. And so Canny thrusts, and crawls, and bites, all of which tends to look more cheesy than frightening. Like a bouncing ball, the narrative too jumps from coming-of-age drama to horror and an awkward comedy too.
The budget constraint didn’t help Darlin’ (2019) either. Polyanna McIntosh counted every penny, which is revealed in simplistic interiors, and very little special effects. That wouldn’t be any problem though, if not for the huge tonal disparities. Plenty of horror films make it work despite three zeros in the disposable budget. In the case of Darlin’ (2019), these constraints deprive the movie of its credibility and mood.
I understand that Darlin’ (2019) guarantees continuity in McIntosh’s passion project. She clearly loves this tiny universe, where a dark-haired wrath sprays havoc, while her ginger-hair sister (I’m still confused about the relationships) tries to adapt to a “new” world. Whatever’s planned for Darlin, and The Woman though, I’m not too sure about embarking on their journey once more.
Darlin’ (2019) – Culturally Loved or Hated?
With its tone being all over the place, Polyanna McIntosh’s film misplaces its focus and delivers an uneven, if not occasionally entertaining pulp.
Hate Grade: 6.5/10
Director: Polyanna McIntosh
Writer: Jack Ketchum, Polyanna McIntosh
Starring: Cooper Andrews, Polyanna McIntosh, Lauryn Canny
Cinematography: Halyna Hutchins
Available on: HBO Go
If you liked Darlin’ (2019), you should check out too:
- The Woman (2011) & The Offspring (2009) – two previous entries in the story, including Polyanna McIntosh’s turn as The Woman
- Devil’s Due (2014) – a horror movie about the devil’s child, with a creepy atmosphere that often feels similarly odd as Darlin’ (2019),
- Zombi Child (2019) – the film also mixes coming-of-age drama set in a girls-only facility with horror elements