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Writer-director and star of Darlin', Pollyanna McIntosh, discusses horror, feminism and catharsis

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Reprising her role as the iconic Woman for the third time in Darlin’, Pollyanna McIntosh also wrote and directed this social issue horror.

As her first venture into feature directing, McIntosh also wrote this standalone sequel to 2011’s The Woman, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this summer. We sat down with the actor-director-writer to talk more about her film, politics and feminism.

Image courtesy of Edinburgh Film Festival

For those who don’t know, could you quickly explain what the relationship is between Darlin’, The Woman (2011) and Offspring (2009)?

So, one of the early movies I made in the states was Offspring, and Offspring was based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, the renowned horror writer. And it was the first time I’d read one of his books and the first time I’d heard of the character, the Woman. In the book, the Woman dies, but they kept her alive in the film because the producers saw the possibility to carry on and make more.

Lucky McKee, who’d made May before, In the Woods and various great horror movies, was asked to co-write the next book with Jack Ketchum himself and to write the film, to continue the story of the Woman in some new way. So I played the lead in The Woman, I’d played her before in Offspring, and when the producer of both films came to me, almost ten years later asking me whether I wanted to direct the sequel, I felt strongly that I wanted to write it. Because you spend a lot of time with a film as a filmmaker, and I wanted to make it personal… so I wrote it.

You do have that balance between dark humour and laugh-out-loud moments, which is not very common is a slasher film.

Yeah, I definitely see it as a genre piece and as a horror film, as well as an explorational character piece… and the Woman is such an important part of that world as well. And obviously with the Woman I wanted to bring her in as much as possible, whilst still being able to direct most of the time, you know? The wit in it, the comedy in it, was mostly inspired by The Woman because there’s dark comedy in that too, but it’s also just the way that I write. Life is absurd, and even in the most horrific moments – I think, especially with being Scottish – gallows humour is really important to us.

With the writing of the script, did you draw from any of the original source material, Ketchum’s books?

I was essentially writing a sequel to The Woman, but I knew it had to be standalone because it had been such a long time; we wanted to widen the possibility of who would watch it. And so at the end of The Woman, you’re left with the Woman, Peggy, who’s Darlin’s sister, Darlin’s other sister Socket, who’s been raised with the dogs and has no eyes, and Darlin’ herself. And for me, with Darlin’ being the heart of the Woman, she was the one who was most open to her, and they really have this connection at the end of the film that I wanted to take further and explore. I also think it’s really interesting for me to write from a young teenage girl’s perspective, because she’s been in the woods for ten years, (so) how is she going to deal with society? It seemed a really clear choice.

It’s definitely personal, and having spoken to Ketchum himself – Dallas is his real name – he didn’t ever write about religion, and he felt quite strongly that it shouldn’t have a religious theme to it, to be honest with you. But I convinced him! I think he felt that it gave it too much power to talk about it, I think he felt it was something best to put away because it wasn’t relevant. And we spoke quite at length about it, and at the end I had his blessing.

Darlin' courtesy of Edinburgh Film Festival

How did it feel getting to reprise the role of the Woman, after all this time?

Really joyful. She’s a really joyful character to play, because being a woman in the world is quite maddening sometimes, and she gets to be an expression of all that anger. She has a power and strength born of a life completely outside of society, so she doesn’t have the trappings of being seen as female. I just find it very freeing and very fun to get back under her skin, and I know her so well that it wasn’t a trial to jump back and forth. But it sure is weird for other actors, especially kids, to see you in all that makeup and the black teeth, filthy long claw-nails… it’s quite scary. I remember working with a wolf in The Woman, and the wolf being more scared of me. There’s just something about blackening out your face, it changes your features and your eyes pop more, and that wolf was not comfortable. Her trainer said that the wolf doesn’t like it when she can’t see people’s faces properly.

Darlin’ is a very different character from the Woman, so what were some of the dual characteristics you were wanting to represent between the Woman, who’s been there a lot longer and Darlin’, who’s a lot younger and only just beginning to experience womanhood, with people telling her how she needs to be?

I think that’s something we all feel on some level, and hopefully it’s what connects with audiences across the board. I wanted the Woman to be both a guide and a threat to her, I want the experience to be one of questioning what’s best for her. And I hope they decide that the Woman’s life is better for her than the trappings of the institution of the care home.

I think that Darlin’s ferocity and capability for survival are very strong as well, but she has been raised in a society up to a young age, and raised in an abusive home as well, until she was five or six years old… and the Woman’s violence isn’t so scary to Darlin’ except in the sense that she is afraid to fully embrace that side of herself, because – without wanting to give too much away – of her experience with that lifestyle. The Woman represents a freedom that Darlin’ can’t really have, not completely, but she has elements of it; that’s the hope of the piece, that she might be as adaptable as the Woman is. She’s just been sullied by societal expectations.

Darlin' has had a taste of that freedom and is therefore given more of an ability to choose her own life.

I think this idea of being ‘good’ too, is such a strong part of what drew me to write it. Like you say, the expectation and the requirements seem to be a lot about what suits other people, rather than ourselves. And the idea of goodness, about being quiet, is also a big theme… It’s also something that as a feminist, as a grown-up, as an independent person, I still feel that pull sometimes, that idea of being ‘good’. I always felt that as a kid too, I moved around so much as a child and I often thought that the next place I went, I could change and become a better version of myself. And I think a lot of those expectations were unwarranted; I think I was fine as I was.

Do you believe that experience is exclusive to young girls, as opposed to boys?

I believe so, yeah. Generally speaking, certainly. We speak more to young men’s actions and boldness, and risks than we do to girls’. We talk more about what they’re wearing, what they look like, what they’re doing.

It’s like the idea of being ‘good’ is not something we think about in relation to men.

Exactly. Particularly in America right now, they’re a culture of celebrating ‘boys will be boys’, there’s this quite oppressively scary culture. And the whole female’s body rights, there’s a lot of pressure trying to change things (and go) backwards. It’s not fun to say, but this film feels more fitting now than it did even when I was writing it, but it does feel that way.

Darlin' courtesy of Edinburgh Film Festival

It’s a fascinating time for it to come out… in the aftermath of #MeToo and Time’s Up, whilst simultaneously this backlash is happening.

Just today, I was ready this article about Trump and the rape allegations against him, and the first thing he said – this is quoting the President of the United States – “first of all, she’s not my type and secondly, it didn’t happen.”

It took him a long time to even address it since the allegations emerged.

Yeah, but I mean that idea that the voice of our country could be suggesting that rape has anything to do with attraction, it’s just so disgusting. It’s sexual dominance, it’s abuse, it’s violence, it’s power. It’s such a fucked-up thing for him to say! She’s not your type to rape, is that what you mean? Because that’s the only way to interpret that response. It’s maddening. I’m going to put my wig on and go to the White House!

There's a wave of social issue horrors that your film belongs to, that I think started with Get Out. Why do you think the horror element has such appeal in working out political themes?

I think it’s always been something that’s been used to work out issues and a way of seeing the world from an outsider’s perspective. How it could be better or how it’s infecting us, I think they did that a lot in ‘70s movies. Horror in this wave right now, is having a resurgence because there’s less snobbery about it – it starts with money, because horror is translatable around the world, it’s always been a market that does very well. I think with Get Out, his pedigree, the fact it was such a huge social issue success, wonderfully done and beautifully acted, and all of that, I think people realised that horror isn’t something to be kept in the corner, that not less than conventional cinema; but European horror and all the horrors have always had that possibility. I think there’s a lot of people thankful that it’s more accessible right now.

And lastly, do you think continuing to direct is something that now appeals to you?

Absolutely. I just made a short piece for a film called Deathcember, it’s a horror anthology of 24 short films by different directors, pieces like an advent calendar. That was really fun to do. I don’t think it’ll always be horror, but I’m definitely going to keep writing and directing.

Darlin' is out on VOD now. 

Lead image courtesy of Edinburgh Film Festival




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