Arguably one of the sickest, most depraved, downright disturbing and, crucially, truly feminist horror movies of recent years, Lucky McKee’s 2011 Jack Ketchum-authored The Woman saw Pollyanna McIntosh’s titular character, a feral cannibal, captured and tortured by a fine, upstanding, God-fearing pillar of a small town American community in an attempt to “civilise” her only for her to get loose in the film’s final act and wreak bloody revenge on the patriarchy before disappearing into the wilderness with the villain’s abused daughters. 

Opening several years after, McIntosh’s belated sequel sees the feral, now ttenage Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny), the youngest of the Woman’s adopted daughters, hospitalised after an accident. 

Filthy, savage and unable to communicate, she forms a bond with gay nurse Tony (The Walking Dead’s beloved Jerry, Cooper Andrews) who cleans her up and cares for her before she is sent to the local Catholic boarding school/orphanage presided over by the dodgy Bishop (Brian Batt) who sees in her taming, the chance to turn around the fortunes of his failing institution and get the donations flowing in.

But, even as Darlin’ finds allies in sympathetic nun Sister Jennifer (Nora-Jane Noone) and rebellious student Billie (Maddie Nichols) and slowly starts to readjust to society, the Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) is cutting a bloody swathe across the country, determined to claim what is hers…

Lurid, bloody and fun, Darlin’ marks the feature directorial debut of actress Pollyanna McIntosh (who also wrote the script) and makes a worthy, if not wholly satisfying, sequel to The Woman, considerably lightening the tone of the earlier film’s dark satire and playing the ferocity more for laughs – the Woman’s encounter with a hospital clown and her first car ride, sticking her head out of the window and tasting the air like a dog, are particular comic highlights though her feminist awakening of a band of homeless junkie sex workers feels spectacularly ill-judged and ultimately pointless.

The tone may be inconsistent but McIntosh’s direction is solid and confident and though her critique of the hypocrisy of organised religion feels a little heavy-handed and obvious, amounting to little more than “Priests are bad; they shag kids!” while the Woman’s own exploitation of Darlin’s adolescent sexuality is largely excused. McIntosh’s experience as an actress shines through however in the casting, coaxing a fierce and winning performance from young Irish newcomer Lauryn Canny, her Darlin’ both vulnerable and savage and there’s strong support from the always reliable Noone (is it a coincidence she fell foul of some nasty nuns in The Magdalene Sisters?) and the teddy bear-like Andrews, my only real complaint being that Lauren Ashley Carter’s Peggy from the previous film receives such short shrift. 

A gory mix of social commentary, pitch-black horror comedy and sensitive, cannibal coming-of-age drama, Darlin’ may lack the bite of The Woman but it’s ferocious fun and confirms McIntosh’s talents as a writer and director.  

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Darlin'
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