A feral Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) brings her equally feral teen “daughter” Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) to a local Catholic hospital. She uses grunts and physical clues to send the girl into the Emergency Room, where she is discovered, covered in filth and grim, with long hair and long nails, savage and hostile. The doctor and a nurse get hold of her and get her into treatment. The Woman, satisfied, leaves, only to return later to check up on her. Darlin’ rejects her “mother” and agrees to be taken into a Catholic orphanage. Here she meets other discarded girls around her same age. She learns to speak and to read and she learns about their interpretation of God. She tells them she has the Devil inside of her, and they must help her remove it before it kills her. The nuns and the bishop think she is finding God, when in reality, she’s actually pregnant and thinks that the child will kill her as it did a “sister” of hers who miscarried (we learn about this in flashbacks). Meanwhile, The Woman is on the road, trying to find Darlin’ and to bring her back home.
Way back around 1980, author Jack Ketchum created a novel about a savage cannibal clan living in Maine called Off Season. It was a controversial book, banned for a while, before finally being released. He eventually wrote a sequel, Offspring and another book in the series, The Woman. He died a couple of years back, having seen both “Offspring” and “The Woman” made into separate motion pictures. The star of The Woman, Pollyanna McIntosh (who most people will know from The Walking Dead TV series) played the title role and was absolutely brilliant in it. Now years later, she decided to make a sequel, writing and directing a story about what happened to The Woman and the girl she took at the end of the previous film. And while she made a pretty decent film, it doesn’t quite match up to what came before it.
To be fair, this isn’t supposed to be more of the same. McIntosh tells the story of Darlin’, not The Woman, and her reintegration into society. She looks at the role religion plays in our lives and in the world around us, as well as how ignorance can lead to tragedy. In this, she absolutely succeeds. The story of Darlin’ is interesting and layered as we get to see the girl grow from savage beast to receiving Communion and reading the Bible. However, the primal within her is always there, a furious, beating heart just below the surface. This is no longer the story of a cannibal clan murdering people for food and kidnapping men and women to propagate their families; this is the story of The Woman learning to let go, and of her “daughter” growing up. This is a very different sort of beast, so to speak.
If you’re looking for the blood and guts thrills from previous stories in this series, you will be disappointed. Yeah, there’s gore and yeah, it’s violent, but this one focuses on the characters a bit more. While the other tales explored the savage as it related to modern man and nature, this one looks at how modern man and nature relates to the savage. It’s a good film but not as compelling as the earlier ones. Still, it was left wide open for more, and McIntosh, who wrote and directed this one, shows great storytelling instincts. This was a tad bit too long but still kept me hungry for more. You don’t have to have seen or read the other materials to understand what’s going on here, so this easily stands on its own. Hopefully it will lead others backwards into the earlier entries. Darlin’ is a good film and a solid debut for writer/director McIntosh.