For better or worse, sequels often give viewers more of the same meaning fans of the last will most likely find something to enjoy with the next. Sometimes, though, a sequel goes in an unlikely direction, and that’s rarely been more applicable than it is with Pollyanna McIntosh‘s feature debut, Darlin’. It’s the third film in a trilogy that includes 2009’s Offspring and 2011’s The Woman, but while those horror movies are deadly serious about their grueling and horrifying natures, McIntosh’s entry is… unexpectedly comedic and fun? Happily, it’s still every bit as bloody.
When we last saw “the Woman” (McIntosh, continuing her role from both previous films) she was escaping the cruelly sadistic grip of a demented suburban family and heading back into the woods, but nearly two decades later she’s returned to the fringe of civilization. She’s not alone, either, as she directs a teenage girl towards a hospital’s emergency entrance before melting back into the foliage. The girl, named Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny), is taken in by the Catholic hospital and quickly passed to their partner orphanage where the local bishop (Bryan Batt) sees a marketing opportunity. The teen is a savage, but what if they could tame her into a child of the Lord through lessons, the bible, and the strict hand of Catholic nuns? Imagine how inclined donors would be to give more in service of such miracles. Unfortunately for them, though, a wild woman can’t be neutered by pricks, puritans, and a patriarchal society.
McIntosh, who both writes and directs the film, steps into a supporting role on the screen but remains a compelling presence for her ferocity and coldly detached stare. The focus falls instead to young Darlin’ with Canny proving herself more than up to the task of creating a memorable character capable of both curious innocence and snarling brutality. She’s open to what the nuns and fellow orphan girls have to teach her, but she has her limits, and watching those around her test those boundaries offers up some of the film’s surprising fun. Her youth and personality allow Darlin’ to stand apart from her “mother” when it comes to a single-minded focus on food and survival. Where the Woman lives only to kill, eat, and live to do it all again the next day, Darlin’ seems capable of more. That duality, though, offers up something of a crossroad for the character.
It’s playful at times — something neither Offspring nor The Woman can claim — and it’s enough to deliver some legit laughs as character interactions and dialogue exchanges play up the humor. Some less successful comedic mining comes as a companion to the film’s broadly on the nose critique of organized religion and its practitioners. Surprise, the bishop is a bit of a perv! Both the script and Batt’s performance play up his cartoon villainy too far to be taken seriously, and while some mild humor remains the antics deflate what could have been a source of tension or serious commentary. Similarly, a whole subplot involving a group of homeless women lands with a thud in part because nothing much is really done with them. They succeed only at being a distraction from the film’s core narrative.
Darlin’s adventures in Catholic school are entertaining in fits and spurts, but the film’s constant source of fun is in the form of its grisly violence. Various story turns lead the Woman back to Darlin’, and it’s a bloody and violent journey as she tears through anyone standing in her way. As with much of the film, the gory bits are sometimes played for laughs, but for the most part the violence is handled with an eye for the grim and gory resulting in a wonderfully wet horror romp.
Despite the effort towards social/societal commentary, there’s no denying that Darlin’ is a casually entertaining affair. It lacks weight and feels too long thanks mostly to those aforementioned side plots, but it still serves as a fun, enjoyable follow-up to the vile and mean film that precedes it. It’s not often that a sequel offers up such tonal whiplash, but it feels wholly appropriate for a franchise about girls who just wanna have fun, eat human flesh, and not be molested by asshole men who cross their paths. You can skip the generic Offspring, but a double feature of The Woman and Darlin’ guarantee an evening of blood, bad behavior, and a bounty of conversational topics.