Movies

Reviews for Polly McIntosh’s ‘Darlin’’; ‘Trespassers,’ ‘Saving Zoë’ and more

(L-R)- Lauryn Canny, Nora-Jane Noone, and Bryan Batt in “Darlin.?” Credit: Dark Sky Films
Lauryn Canny, from left, Nora-Jane Noone and Bryan Batt in the movie “Darlin’”
(Dark Sky Films)

‘Darlin’ ’

In 2011, Pollyanna McIntosh played the title role in writer-director Lucky McKee’s “The Woman” (co-written with Jack Ketchum), a controversial horror film about a feral cannibal abducted by a respected attorney, who abuses her in front of his family. McIntosh had played the same character in director Andrew van den Houten’s 2009 “Offspring” (also written by Ketchum), where the Woman was part of an ancient band of roving man-eaters.

Now, McIntosh has written and directed “Darlin,’ ” in which the Woman loses track of the teenager she’s been raising out in the woods, and ventures into the city to find her. Lauryn Canny plays the girl, named Darlin’, who gets discovered first by a scheming priest (Bryan Batt) and stowed away at a Catholic girls’ school.

Most of “Darlin’ ” follows the title character, as she first resists the church’s plan to civilize her, then gradually begins to come around to the idea that she needs to be “saved.” McIntosh the director spends a lot of time with Darlin’ and her sympathetic classmates, occasionally cutting back to show the Woman taking refuge with homeless women.

The parallel story lines are both about a twisted sisterhood, and come together in a climactic church service sequence that’s equal parts disgusting and grandiose — and kind of awesome, for fans of bizarre, punky horror.

“Darlin’ ” may not be as stomach-turning as “The Woman” or “Offspring,” but McIntosh understands the strength of this strange series, which is all about how humanity is inherently savage and clannish, no matter how well-groomed and well-mannered we may seem.

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‘Darlin’ ’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Starts July 12, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Trespassers’

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Zach Avery and Angela Trimbur in the movie "Trespassers."
(IFC Films)

For the most part, the home invasion thriller “Trespassers” is pretty typical of the genre. A small group of people spend a night at a remote house and find themselves tormented by masked killers with some dark agenda. Part slasher flick, part drawing-room mystery, these movies tend to be reliably intriguing and terrifying — and, when it counts, “Trespassers” is no exception.

But director Orson Oblowitz and screenwriter Corey Deshon take a few chances with this material, not all of which pan out. They play around with the idea of an “invasion,” introducing several small impositions before the bad guys arrive.

Angela Trimbur and Zach Avery play Sarah and Joseph, a couple looking to repair a rocky relationship with a romantic weekend at a high-end rental property. Janel Parrish plays Sarah’s best friend, Estelle, who joins the party with her obnoxious, bullying boyfriend, Vic (Jonathan Howard). That’s invasion No. 1.

Then, there’s a knock on the door, and an overbearing neighbor barges in, making everyone uncomfortable. Another invasion. And all of this happens before the murder gang shows up.

This equation of “bad company” with “homicidal marauders” is clever, though it does make the movie’s first two-thirds more of a chore. Fairuza Balk is amusingly irritating as the neighbor, but everyone else is just a drag.

Once the machete-wielding brutes in wrestler masks appear, though, “Trespassers” perks up considerably. That’s what makes this genre so perennially popular. No matter who’s cowering inside the house, the assassins at the door make their story more interesting.

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‘Trespassers’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

Playing: Starts July 12, Arena Cinelounge Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘Saving Zoë’

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Laura Marano, left, and Vanessa Marano in the movie "Saving Zoë."
(Blue Fox Entertainment)

Based on Alyson Noël’s popular 2007 young adult novel, the movie “Saving Zoë” stars former Disney Channel star Laura Marano as Echo, a level-headed high-schooler still reeling from the murder of her sister Zoë (Vanessa Marano). When Echo finds Zoë’s diary and learns that her free-spirited sister’s big heart and sense of adventure led her into a trap set by depraved sex-criminals, right before she died.

The film was directed by Jeffrey G. Hunt, from a screenplay by Brian J. Adams and LeeAnne H. Adams; but given that the Marano sisters optioned “Saving Zoë” in the first place, co-produced with their mother, Ellen, and are in nearly every frame of the picture, it feels more like their movie. At its best, “Saving Zoë” dwells on the enduring bond between siblings, which survives despite one keeping secrets.

But even with the occasional voiceover narration, the film can’t quite replicate the appeal of Noël’s original, where a lot of the action is internal, dealing with these women’s opinions and feelings. The mystery plot isn’t surprising enough — and it takes at least a few good jolts to create the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner.

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‘Saving Zoë’

Rated: R, for disturbing violence/rape, nudity, language, drug use, drinking, and brief sexuality, all involving teens

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Starts July 12, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Desolate’

Will Brittain in a scene from “Desolate.” Credit: UnCork?d Entertainment
Will Brittain in the movie "Desolate."
(Uncork’d Entertainment)

Writer-director-producer Frederick Cipoletti brings a striking look to his gritty thriller “Desolate,” turning the barren landscapes of Central California into into the setting for a dystopian future that feels all too real. Co-written with Jonathan Rosenthal, “Desolate” stars Will Brittain as Billy Stone, the youngest son in a farming family that’s turned to crime in the wake of the kind of devastating, culture-changing drought that seems increasingly likely.

Unfortunately, after a promising set-up — in which Billy is abandoned in the wasteland and has to toughen up in a hurry — “Desolate” never really develops an involving enough plot. It’s mostly just a series of armed standoffs and embittered conversations, populated by hairy tough guys who would’ve fit right in on “Sons of Anarchy.”

Still, while the story’s nothing special, the world of “Desolate” is memorable, with its tribal rivalries and sleazy black markets. It’s a vision of the end-times that disturbingly resembles the dying small towns of America in 2019.

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‘Desolate’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Starts July 12, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Better Than Love’

Andrew Lawrence in a scene from “Better Than Love.” Credit: Indie Rights
Andrew Lawrence in the movie "Better Than Love."
(Indie Rights)

It’s hard to fault the intentions of “Better Than Love,” a low-budget drama that aims to show how opioid dependency ruins lives. But not even a winning lead performance by Andrew Lawrence can keep this film from feeling as dreary and programmatic as a PSA.

Writer-director Ted Carney and his co-writer/producer Tim Schaaf make some interesting choices by having Lawrence’s character, Jon, be a low-level drug dealer in a fairly placid Pacific Northwest suburb. The hero’s obviously good-hearted, but hardly an upstanding citizen. The particulars of Jon’s life on the margins though fade in the second half of “Better Than Love,” after an accident gets him hooked on painkillers.

The point here is strong: that addiction is a tragedy, regardless of social class or moral fiber. But that message would’ve had more of a bigger impact if wrapped in an involving story. This film feels more like being smacked with a pamphlet.

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‘Better Than Love’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Starts July 12, Arena Cinelounge Hollywood

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