This week I was lucky enough to attend to the Pollyanna McIntosh double bill of The Woman (2011) and the UK premiere of the sequel Darlin’ (2019). Both films were introduced by Pollyanna McIntosh herself, who plays the titular character in The Woman and is the director, writer, and reprises her role of The Woman in Darlin’.
Considering Pollyanna is Scottish herself, you could tell she was extremely excited for Darlin’ to get its UK premiere in the Scottish capital, and she introduced both films to the audience in an outfit I completely adored, featuring a pretty spectacular red pantsuit/mini-cape combo, topped off with an impressive wide-brimmed hat.
Even though she admitted she was “shitting herself” to be watching Darlin’ with her family present, and because she’d only seen the film a handful of times with an actual audience, you could tell she was incredibly proud of her work in both movies and was keen to release Darlin’ into the world.
The Woman (2011)
Directed by Lucky McKee and adapted from Jack Ketchum’s novel of the same name (2010), The Woman has obviously been out for some time, but as it had somehow passed me by up until this point, I thought it would be better to catch this before going into Darlin’. It turns out The Woman is itself a sequel to the movie Offspring (2009), also based on a novel by Ketchum (1991), but while all the movies are connected, they do all work well as standalone movies. The character of The Woman is introduced to us as she kills a wolf in order to take over its cave den, and we learn pretty much all we need to about her in that opening segment, even without having seen the previous film.
Next, we’re introduced to the Cleek family, and again we get a pretty good idea of all their characters from a short scene which features the entire family at a barbeque. Chris (Sean Bridgers), the father of the family is a slimy country lawyer who likes to boss his wife, Belle (Angela Bettis), around and pays a little bit too much attention to their oldest daughter, Peggy. Belle tries to stand up for herself but ultimately does what her husband tells her. Peggy seems to be getting some interest from a local teenage boy, but she remains seated by the pool, ignoring his advances and keeping herself well covered. There is also the Cleek’s middle child, Brian, who we get major hints is a trash human, as he watches a little girl get bullied with too much interest and then decides to play basketball rather than interfere. Finally, we have the youngest member of the family, Darlin’, who likes listening to her little radio, gingerbread men, and gets told off for trying to kiss boys.
When Chris heads on into the local woods on a solo hunting trip, he happens across The Woman while she’s bathing in the stream. After perving on her through his gun’s scope for a little while, he does what any sane man would do – heads back home and instructs his family to clear out the cellar so that he can turn it into a prison for The Woman. After successfully capturing her, and restraining her with a chain and pulley system, Chris wakes The Woman up, only to have his finger bitten off for getting too close to her. She smiles as she crunches (and the sounds are just delightful, let me tell you) his finger with her teeth, and swallows the remains in front of him.
Chris introduces his family to The Woman, saying it is their job to civilise her, as she has no right to be roaming around the woods pretending to be an animal. Belle and Peggy are rightly outraged by what Chris is up to, but it’s clear he has them so scared of him that they won’t do anything but comply.
The story follows Chris’ attempts to “fix” The Woman, and bring her up to his standards to be able to justify a place in society. From cleaning up her appearance, to providing her with clothing which covers more of her flesh, Chris eventually gets to the stage where he can complete what his plan has definitely been from the start in relation to his intentions towards The Woman, which ends up being the catalyst for various members of the family reaching their breaking point.
The Woman is an incredibly powerful film and I spent most of it experiencing high levels of anger, very similar to the rage levels I get when I watch The Handmaid’s Tale (2017). It doesn’t matter that the character of The Woman may be viewed as a monster, considering she has a bit of a taste for human flesh and wouldn’t blink at the thought of murdering someone. Her ‘otherness’ is merely a vehicle for Chris to have an excuse to try and mould her into what he thinks a woman should be. However, it’s something he’s already done with his wife and oldest daughter, and something he’s clearly tried and failed to do in the past with the character Socket, who we meet in the last act of the film. It’s an extreme way of showing the sort of judgement that men pass on women every day, and the actions they will take to try and make women act in a certain way or live up to a specific set of standards which have been created for us.
This scenario is a clear indication of how trash people can quickly spread their poison throughout an entire family, with the character of Brian, in particular, absorbing all of his father’s hatred and prejudices toward women, as well as idolising Chris’ views on toxic masculinity.
The end sees The Woman take Socket, a pregnant Peggy, and Darlin’ under her wing, as they leave the trauma of the Cleek family behind them, and head off into the woods to form a new clan. All of them have been negatively affected by Chris in some way, with Darlin’ perhaps escaping most of the nightmare due to her age, and this bonds them together as they head off to try and start a new life together as a unit.
Described by Pollyanna McIntosh as “a coming-of-age horror”, Darlin’ follows the character of Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) from The Woman after she is hit by an ambulance outside a hospital, and ends up being placed in a Catholic care home-type establishment as they cannot find a trace of who her real family is. Having spent the last ten years with The Woman, Darlin’ is now quite feral herself, with a taste for raw meat, and predilection to err on the side of violence.
However, The Woman isn’t out of Darlin’s life and was with her when she headed towards the hospital. However, when she is moved to the Catholic home, The Woman loses track of her and spends most of the film trying to track her down.
The story mostly focuses on Darlin’s time at the Catholic home, the relationships she builds with her fellow students, and what happens when she starts to shed her feral ways and rebuild her life. However, not everything goes smoothly for Darlin’, and it turns out the main reason The Bishop (Bryan Batt) decided to take Darlin’ on board in the first place was that he saw her profit potential and not because he actually cares about her. The home is on the verge of closure, and he believes proving that they’ve turned a feral girl into a functioning member of society will bring enough attention from the press to avoid closure. We find out later on that he also has a much darker reason for wanting to keep the home open. While The Bishop’s darker side takes a little while longer to surface than Chris’ in The Woman, their intentions are remarkably similar, as they look to shape these women into what they want, without really considering the feelings of the women involved.
The film does feel more like a dreamy coming-of-age story, with the scenes with all the girls in the home having a particular The Virgin Suicides (1999) feel to them. Scenes where the girls are together in their dorm, or when Darlin’ is learning to dance out in the woods definitely feel more at home in a teen movie. While there are nasty undertones to some character’s actions, the level of brutality has been dialled down considerably from the previous film, meaning it’s definitely not as traumatic a viewing experience as The Woman.
The character of The Woman is actually sidelined quite a bit in this movie, with her primary purpose being in the final act of the film or to carry out most of the acts of violence which take place in the film. I think the film could have done with featuring her character as little as possible and shifting the entire focus to Darlin’. The flashbacks to the relationship between The Woman and Darlin’ are an excellent addition and not only explain why Darlin’ was at the hospital at the start of the film but also the conflicting ideas the two women have, as well as the internal struggle Darlin’ is dealing with within herself.
There were two things I really loved about this movie, the first of which was the hints of comedy, which the film really leans into and which always worked for me. They were a bit of relief from the dark storyline, but they never felt out of place or forced. My particular favourite was when The Woman takes her first ride in a car.
The second thing I loved was the little connections to The Woman. Even though this does work as a standalone movie, there were little touches added to link the two films together, which I appreciated even more when watching both movies back-to-back. Things like Darlin’ taking a gingerbread man biscuit to bed with her to cuddle, her enjoying listening to music with her friend in the woods as she did in her previous life, or even her prolonged stare as she’s given a pair of rubber gloves to clean the bathroom with which match the pair her mother used to wear. Whether Darlin’ is aware of the significance of these connections to her old life, or it just triggers something in her brain that makes her pause for thought, these are quite emotional moments where a hint of the old Darlin’ makes her way to the surface.
Overall, I preferred The Woman to Darlin’, though I did thoroughly enjoy both movies. The Woman is more horror-based, and while it is definitely a harder film to watch, I had a much stronger reaction to it, and preferred it more as a result, even though I know I would be far more likely to give Darlin’ repeat viewings. I also felt that as a complete story, The Woman worked much better, whereas Darlin’ suffered from a slightly weaker ending, where the fate of our titular character is left quite ambiguous, and the focus seems to shift back to The Woman if another film was ever added to series. This makes sense in theory, as Darlin’s story in terms of this film universe has pretty much come to an end one way or another, but I wouldn’t be interested in following The Woman to see what she does next.
I would highly recommend checking out The Woman if, like me, it’s been left off your horror viewing list for the past eight years, and if you do get the chance to see Darlin’ on the big screen, make sure you watch it. Both films are significant entries in female-fronted horror, and both deal with very relevant issues about the treatment of women, even though the ways of getting the messages across in both movies is somewhat different. The Woman may be a little gory and violent for some audience members, but Darlin’ is a horror that should suit everyone. It’s so important that we support new horror, horror directed by women, and horror that puts women at the forefront of the story without sexualising it or making us sit through an over-the-top amount of violence against women before tacking on a revenge story at the end.
Darlin’ made its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019.