FTP: Darlin' (2019)

JULY 17, 2023


OK just to note quick before I ramble: I mostly enjoyed Darlin’, finding it the best of the loose trilogy featuring Polly McIntosh (who also wrote and directed this entry) as “The Woman”. But I find nothing about it as fascinating as the existence of this franchise, as the first film (2009’s Offspring) was based on a book that was a sequel to another book (Off Season) which has yet to be adapted, and then 2011’s The Woman was more of a spinoff from Offspring as opposed to a traditional sequel, as it only featured (you guessed it) The Woman and an otherwise completely different plot and mostly new creative team. And then Darlin' was a spinoff from that, once again retaining McIntosh’s character but going into different territory yet again. So it's a spinoff of a spinoff of a sequel to an un-adapted book! I kind of hope it keeps going, with McIntosh eventually inside the plot of a Bond movie or something.

Darlin’ also retains another character from The Woman, as Darlin’ was one of the daughters of the family that had her tied up in their shed. The Woman killed the son and the two parents in that film, taking off with their three girls (Darlin and Socket, with Peggy sort of just going along by choice), but since eight years have passed they recast Darlin’ and left Socket out entirely (Peggy is once again played by Lauren Ashley Carter, though only makes a couple of quick appearances in flashbacks, where – spoiler ahead – we learn that she died giving birth to the baby she was carrying). So this one is a two-hander, as Darlin’ and The Woman are split at the beginning of the movie and follow different journeys, with the now feral Darlin’ being taken in by a church orphanage and rehabilitated while The Woman makes (reads: kills and eats) her way around trying to reconnect with her. It’s MOSTLY standalone, but while you certainly don’t need to see Offspring it might help to at least read a Wiki on The Woman to really follow the story, as despite the long gap between films and the “spinoff” nature (not to mention this one doesn’t come from a Ketchum novel) McIntosh’s script doesn’t fully explain their relationship, and Darlin’s explanation of where Socket and Peggy went (which occurs far into the movie) is a bit hard to follow due to her broken English, so having the context of who they were will help fill in those gaps.

But what’s most important is that this movie is far less grim and unpleasant as the first two, with only scattered moments of on-screen violence and even less of the sexual assault that permeated those films. No one in the world will be shocked to learn that the Bishop who runs the orphanage is preying on his young charges, but thankfully we are spared any overt depictions of it, and the lone scene of a man trying to force himself on a woman is quickly interrupted by The Woman, who takes care of the jerk in rightfully short fashion. This allows the characters themselves to shine through without constantly alienating a chunk of the audience as the first two did, though if you’re squeamish at the sight of cannibalism then you should be warned that there are a few quick shots of such practices. I’d say the entire movie has about the same level of violence/face eating as Lecter’s escape sequence in (ahem, Best Picture Winner) Silence of the Lambs, so if you can handle that you should be fine.

That all said, the real issue here is that the two narratives don’t really complement each other all that well (two in a row!), and it’s never fully clear what one wants from the other. Early on it seems Darlin’ wants nothing to do with The Woman, but we don’t get enough of what happened between the end of The Woman and the beginning of this one for that to really land, and likewise with Woman’s communication skills rather lacking it’s difficult to parse out exactly what she plans to do once she finds Darlin’ again. It seems she wants to “rescue” her, which is understandable enough, but given that the movie seemingly takes place over several months it’s unclear why she’s taking her time with it. It finally becomes more clear near in the third act, when she tries to kidnap a baby, but that renders a lot of the earlier scenes feeling somewhat aimless. The script also pads itself out in a rather silly manner, as a caring nurse is taking Woman to Darlin’, only to get in a car wreck. The man survives, but The Woman just runs away and hooks up with a group of homeless women for a while rather than finish what she was doing. It’s like when you’re playing Zelda and are proceeding toward a tower to unlock or something, only to get distracted by a shrine and a sidequest to find someone’s horse.

Still, it’s always engaging enough; even though they’re both quick to tear off someone’s face or bite off their finger, both are still sympathetic in their own way, and it’s not hard to root for them against pedo church leaders and such. Both McIntosh and Lauryn Canny give excellent performances with a minimum of dialogue (McIntosh just has her grunts, Canny eventually speaks but in very short bursts), and I was also happy to see Nora-Jane Noone from The Descent (she played Holly, the young punk-y one) as the lone kind nun at the orphanage, as she’s basically playing the same role as Sister Margaret in Silent Night, Deadly Night, in that she wants to help this troubled sort but slowly realizes it may be a lost cause. Plus, again, it’s so much less unpleasant than its predecessors, I was mostly just happy to watch a movie in this world without feeling the need to shower after. I’d be very curious how someone who hadn’t seen the others would respond to it; I can imagine someone seeing this one first and then discovering this fact after. “Wait, so the movie where someone’s lip is eaten off is the LEAST disgusting of the series?”

The blu-ray has a few bonus features; one is called “Deleted SCENES” (plural) but there’s only one, and I had to chuckle when I saw it because I specifically noted “wow, that’s an awkward edit” at the point of the movie where it was removed, and it also makes more sense out of a later scene, so it really should have stayed in. Then there’s a 20ish minute making of piece, which is nothing special but it’s nice to hear McIntosh and Canny speak normally. McIntosh also provides a commentary, which is quite good but weirdly runs out of synch, seemingly getting worse as the film goes on – by the climax, she’s reacting to things that we saw 30 seconds earlier, which makes the comments somewhat confusing at times (“Her family rallies around her” she says over a shot of Darlin’ seeing The Woman’s homeless women pals for the first time, but actually referring to the nurse and nun characters who had run up to help her several seconds earlier). I also winced in sadness at a comment about a particular scene that had to be revised on the day because a storm hit their location and it would have been a safety issue for her camera crew… which was led by none other than Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer who was unfortunately killed on (someone else’s) set in 2021 due to lax safety protocols. Truly a terrible reminder of the tragedy, but at least we were assured that McIntosh (a first time director) had enough brains to ensure her crew’s safety came first, unlike the dummies on the other project that I’ll never ever watch.

Basically it’s a decent movie, but I can’t help but wonder if part of my warm feelings are due to my dislike of the previous two entries, giving this one a little bump that it might not have received had I gone in completely ignorant of its predecessors. The script lacked focus and never quite found its footing when dividing lead character duties between the two women, and the geography/time was never clear enough to understand why they weren’t able to reunite sooner. These are things that should derail a movie for me, but I wasn’t watching anyone get tortured, and none of the film’s well-meaning characters are killed in meanspirited ways, so I walked away with “this is pretty good!” kind of feelings despite having several concerns. I guess it’d be like how you’d probably never drink Faygo if you had other options, but it would taste absolutely delicious after a week in the desert.

What say you?


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