Film review by Ed Nguyen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell,
Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Daveigh Chase, James Duval
Director: Richard Kelly
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 132 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Darko. What the hell kind of name
is that? It's like some sort of
superhero or something."
makes you think I'm not?"
films are generally a hit-or-miss proposition, and the horror genre seems
particularly replete with such pictures. One
of the better films recently to attain cult status is Donnie
Darko. First released without much fanfare in 2001, this film has
since amassed a substantial following of truly avid fans. As an enigmatic hybrid between psychological horror and
1980's John Hughes-style teen angst, Donnie
Darko apparently struck a sensitive chord with the disillusioned youth of
Generation X, who identified with many of the film's characters, particularly
unfolds much as would a mystery. The
title character, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a frustrated high school student
who has little regard for his parents and virtual disdain for most of his school
instructors. He is a typically
rebellious teen, unhappy with his life and searching for a meaningful role
model. Donnie's life lacks
direction, and when he isn't shutting himself in his own room, Donnie can be
seen vandalizing property or wandering aimlessly through the community in the
dead of night. His exasperated
mother has her son attending regular sessions with a child psychologist in the
hopes of curing him of his morose tendencies.
evening - October 2, 1988 to be exact - a strange catastrophe befalls the Darko
residence. The sky literally opens
up and falls upon the home, destroying Donnie's room in the process.
Perhaps a premonition of impending disaster saves him, because Donnie
awakens mere moments before the disaster for an impromptu midnight stroll in the
survival proves not to be a stroke of good fortune but rather a destiny guided
by more mysterious hands. His
night-time walk brings him into the presence of Frank, an apparently impervious
demonic rabbit with a horrific prophecy - the imminent end of the world in
approximately one month, a fate somehow linked to the partial destruction of the
Darko residence. It was Frank who
had somehow summoned Donnie, and subsequently only Donnie can see Frank or
remains aware of the apparition's ominous message. As the October days fly by, Frank increasingly intrudes upon
Donnie's subconscious or dream states, offering further warnings and
the otherwise normal small suburban community of Middlesex eventually settles
back into life's daily routines and prepares for the upcoming Halloween
celebrations, Donnie begins to focus upon the enigma at hand.
What is the nature of the catastrophe to come?
Is there a way to stop it, and if so, how?
What true role does the demonic apparition play in this intricate web of
supernatural events? Are these
strange events even real or merely hallucinations, the adverse side effects of
Donnie's anti-psychotic medications? Could
everything merely represent dream images or a divergent pathway altogether into
a tangential realm of existence?
channels the dark undercurrents of David Lynch's Blue
Velvet. Beneath the superficial
pleasantries of this peaceful Virginian town of Middlesex, there lingers the
vestiges of an alternative underworld, a haunting realm in which appearances are
shown to be quite deceiving. Donnie
Darko also plays off the style of the teen coming-of-age comedies of the
1980's. Fittingly, this film boasts
in its cast several 80's icons - Patrick Swayze as a motivational speaker and
Drew Barrymore as a school teacher, albeit a most progressive one.
Songs from that era, by the likes of Tears for Fears and INXS, accentuate
the seemingly cheerful environs which camouflage the more sinister elements of
is a student at Middlesex Ridge, a Catholic high school.
With underlying themes of religion thus established, the film traces
events in this one strange month of October, asking us to consider whether these
deeds represent an act of god, the will of more sinister forces, or even the
unsettlingly warped workings of Donnie's mind.
Halloween draws ever closer, Donnie's behavior becomes increasingly more erratic
and destructive. One might
certainly argue that Donnie is simply a paranoid schizophrenic losing his
ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.
Perhaps he is even acting out as a psychological response to a school
reading assignment, Graham Greene's The
Destructors. If destruction is
a form of creation, then perhaps Donnie's world must be torn asunder before it
can be reassembled for the better.
original theatrical version of Donnie
Darko was a rather obtuse film which stubbornly defied attempts to follow
narrative conventions. Director
Richard Kelly sprinkled clues liberally throughout the film without actually
spelling anything out. Much more
was implied than ever directly depicted or shown.
The film's apparent teen-angst and teen-romance storyline differed
significantly from the true underlying horror context, interpretable as anything
from a pure dream to a true mystery to a psychological breakdown.
In this light, watching Donnie Darko was akin to shuffling through a collage of unassembled
jigsaw puzzle pieces, a frustrating experience perhaps for viewers accustomed to
being spoon-fed every single plot detail in a movie.
The more enterprising viewers were able to assimilate the clues over
multiple screenings and draw their own conclusions.
Darko: The Director's Cut
represents an incorporation of various deleted scenes (about 21 minutes' worth)
into the original narrative. The
result is a somewhat more coherent and leisurely-paced film. New initiates to the Donnie
Darko cult will prefer this revised version of the film, while the true
cultists will probably cling to the enigmatic shroud of the original release.
In either case, many (but not all) of the extended scenes are already
available as bonus features on the original Donnie
Darko DVD, while the film's official website is the source for other
changes, particularly key notations and excerpts from the book "The
Philosophy of Time Travel." As
such, the "new" material in this Director's Cut will probably be
familiar already to long-time fans of the film, but as part of the extended
version of the film, they do provide a more palatable introduction to Donnie Darko for the novice fan.
the new changes, the book excerpts are the most significant.
They describe the steps in the transformation that Donnie will undergo in
his eventual quest to correct the perceived dangers in his present existence.
However, any viewer expecting clunky time machines or climactic clashes
with angry demon rabbits or space aliens is in for disappointment.
Donnie's metamorphosis is entirely an internal journey.
As Unbreakable was to the
super-hero genre, so Donnie Darko is
to the horror genre, a cerebral portrayal of a spiritual or psychological voyage
in face of great adversity.
Darko is not
a film for everyone. But there is
no denying that it is a remarkable achievement which uses some admittedly
conventional elements and plot devices to fashion a truly unforgettable
experience. The film's fans are
rabid and legion, and they understand well what a unique film director Richard
Kelly has crafted. As Kelly's
feature-length directorial debut, Donnie
Darko sets a high standard for the young director to follow. I am sure that I am joined by multitudes of Darko cultists
who wish the best for Kelly's sophomore follow-up!
This is not one of the best looking Blu-rays you will own, but I think the artistic choices were deliberate. This movie has the look and feel of a real 80s movie, even though it came out in 2001. That means there is a slightly muted, understated quality to the colors and a touch of softness. Detail levels on the Blu-ray are quite good, and the overall effect of the visuals lend an authenticity to the piece that I personally appreciated.
I really love the DTS HD remix of the audio. The sound is crucial in this film, from the otherworldly voices that come out of all channels at once to the the deafening impact of one key sequence. The music especially serves the film well, and I've never heard "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS, "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears or "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division sound so potent and bright. A terrific listening experience!
days, six hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds...that is when the world will end."
This anniversary Blu-ray offers further enlightenment for the
discriminating Darko fan. There are four discs in this set, the first one holding both the
extended director's cut and the theatrical cut, along with as well as a few good
audio commentaries. The director's cut
features on with Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith. Smith is clearly a fan, although he comes across as a
foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed dude, so cover the kiddies' ears during his comments,
which are otherwise often humorous. Overall,
this is a particularly revealing track, especially for fans who wish to learn
more about the new scenes or changes in the film.
Kelly also discusses the various songs in the soundtrack and the
rationale behind the musical shuffling. Be
sure to listen to the commentary until the end, as Kelly begins a
question-and-answer session in which he attempts to reply to all the questions
posed by fans about Donnie Darko. If some
aspect of the film has been particularly nagging or cryptic, this last segment
of the commentary track may provide an answer, or at least the director's own
second disc, a DVD, holds the remaining bonus features. Be forewarned - these features give away crucial plot
elements, so watch Donnie Darko first
before perusing through anything on this second disc.
up is the Donnie Darko Production Diary
(52 min.), a home video recording of the production of the film.
There is optional commentary by director of photography Steven B. Poster,
whose comments unsurprisingly focus on various aspects of the cinematography.
This documentary opens with location scouting in the spring of 2000; to
be frank, most of these California sites hardly resemble Virginia, but such is
life. Once principal photography
begins, we get a glimpse of many rehearsal scenes, alternate takes, and
occasional mugging by the cast and crew for the camera.
As a nice touch, many of these people (including the most minor extras!)
are identified by name and role in the film.
Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of Donnie Darko (28 min.) is a series of quick interviews with enthusiastic British
fans, including editors from some top British entertainment magazines,
discussing their love of the film and their favorite quotes from the film.
Some fans were apparently interviewed by a costumed facsimile of Frank,
the demonic rabbit himself, as they attempt to explain the vast appeal of the
film. This featurette does
illustrate the apparent genesis of Donnie
Darko's international cult status in the U.K.
Richard Kelly offers a few words (via telephone) as well.
This featurette includes a discussion of the advertising campaign, with
artwork of the demonic rabbit face and other artwork inspired by the film.
"storyboard to screen" featurette (8 min.) shows a side-by-side
comparison of several scenes in the film, including the initial fate-spear
phenomenon, party sequences, and the pivotal "Grandma Death" scene on
Fan: A Darkomentary
(13 min.) is a really disturbing look at an off-the-wall, utterly obsessed fan
of the film. This adult-aged
fellow, Darryl Donaldson, borders upon stalker mentality.
His room's adolescent decor must be seen to be believed.
He stalks various cast members. He
stalks Richard Kelly, even! As a
finale, he tricks and kisses Richard Kelly, too.
Smack. The mind boggles.
On the other side, this hoot-of-a-featurette earned Donaldson a
legitimate claim to the crown of #1 fan by the official Donnie
Darko website. Okay, so maybe
Donaldson is a harmless loon, but he's still a little freaky.
The third disc is a DVD version of the theatrical cut that allows you to see the director's cut scenes as deleted ones, plus infomercials from the great Jim Cunningham (ahem), a look at the Philosophy of Time Travel book, a website gallery, art and production stills, trailers, TV spots, info on the cast and crew, and a gallery from the website.
The fourth disc is a portable digital copy.
With a fine cast, innovative story, and exceptional re-watchability, Donnie Darko is a film well-deserving of its immense cult following. This director's cut of the film is essential viewing for anyone interested in experiencing one of the most unique "horror" films in recent years.