Morbidly Beautiful

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Following the Midwest premiere of Pollyanna McIntosh’s “Darlin’”, I was fortunate to discuss the film with the writer and director herself.

We spoke about some of Darlins sociopolitical themes, how it is a horror film that embraces both the light and dark sides of humanity, how a feral teenage protagonist could very well be a guiding voice for young, horror-loving audiences, and much more.

Many fans know Pollyanna McIntosh from her work in Lucky McKee’s The Woman and her role as Jadis in The Walking Dead.

But the actress turned filmmaker had so much to tell in this story and the background to tell it properly.

Although it could have easily been a challenge to undertake a sequel to such a beloved, cult film, there was no one better to successfully rise to the challenge.

The story came to me quick and fast. And I was lucky enough to have the great influences of (Jack) Ketchum’s writing, his novels, and also Lucky (McKee) and Ketchum’s novel ‘The Woman’ and the film. I knew the character inside and out,” said McIntosh.

“…writing a story about a young, teenage girl (Lauryn Canny) and the awakening of her own sexuality and coming of age, I really felt that I did not want her to be objectified in any way. That was the only point in the writing where I had to step back and go ‘can I do this?’ Luckily, I got a lot of assurance that it would be done the way I wanted it to be done, and so I carried on. And here we are.”

Whereas The Woman is told via an grim, omniscient narrative that follows the Cleek family after the family’s patriarch, Chris (Sean Bridgers), captures The Woman (McIntosh), Darlin’ is a coming-of-age tale with heart and a powerful message underneath its blood-soaked scenery.

McIntosh seemed to know her work would be cut out for her.

But out of her immense love for the characters created by Ketchum and McKee, both of whom she’s worked with closely over the years, she was determined to bring this side of the story to audiences.

“Directing is a wonderful challenge. And again, knowing the thing from the inside out as the writer and having played her before, I think I had a great advantage there. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted the film to look like. I had an amazing cast and crew. But of course, it’s an indie film, so you’ve got a very tight schedule. You’ve got a very tight budget,” said McIntosh.

Beyond the typical challenges for independent filmmakers, the elements even contributed to some rather interesting days on set.

“It snowed in Louisiana for God’s sake, that never happens!” said McIntosh.

“Even our snow day, which could have been a real challenge for us because we couldn’t shoot that day — we couldn’t have people on the roads with the driving conditions and with the drivers who are so unused to them – we still managed to shoot some wonderful snow stuff that day. So even with the problems, I think it’s really coming at things from a problem-solving perspective and having that kind of crew around you. You could make anything happen.”

In the still male-dominated world of filmmaking, it is more important than ever for women to take their seats in directors’ chairs.

Women can tell stories from perspectives that aren’t always seen and heard. But, according to McIntosh, the narrative of a good story isn’t necessarily specific to gender.

“I don’t even think it’s just women’s stories. I think it’s our stories of humanity told by the female from obviously the female perspective, though we can also talk about the male perspective because we live in a male-driven society. I think that, for some people, it can be, ‘What does a female-driven movie look like?’ It sounds like it’s very much just for women, but no. It’s about opening up perspectives and allowing our voices to come into the fray so that we can tell more nuanced stories.”

She goes on to explain:

“I think for some people it’s jarring because they’re used to always the male perspective. A lot of people have told me you need to see this movie twice. A lot of men have said that, where a lot of women have said ‘I got it the first go-round'”

One of her close collaborators, Lucky McKee, is also known for making female-driven stories and has been for his entire career.

This further proves that, while it is important to have diversity amongst directors, the dedication to the characters can be told from any good storyteller — as they are committed to the material.

Another example of this is Cooper Andrews’ (The Walking Dead) character, who plays a nurse who wants to adopt a child with his partner but can’t. This is a common issue for people in the LGBTQ community, particular when looking to adopt through religion-based organizations.

Nothing in the film dwelled or lingered on Andrews’ sexuality in the film. For McIntosh, it was less about writing a gay character and more about the role that he plays, showing that these lives and stories are commonplace and not necessarily specific to any one group of people. She explains:

“He was wanting, like everybody else in the film, wanting a family and wanting a community and wanting to connect. He finds that connection in Darlin’. He’s longing for a family, and so she comes along at a time that’s important for him.”