Fox // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 15th, 2009
A sequel so terrible it may well ruin your appreciation of the original.
The world did not need a sequel to Richard Kelly's strangely cool cult classic Donnie Darko. Off the top of my head, I can think of hundreds of films far more worthy of receiving a follow-up. The world of Donnie Darko was all ready explored more than it should have been in Kelly's own director's cut of the film, so why on Earth would we need a sequel offering more details on how that particular world works? Donnie Darko is largely fascinating due to what it doesn't tell us. The less we know, the richer the possibilities. Not only does this film completely fail to understand why the first film was so successful, it also manages to be genuinely terrible in its own right.
This film follows the adventures of Samantha Darko (Daveigh Chase, reprising her role) who takes a road trip to Utah, encounters a bunch of squares, and begins to experience all sorts of strange things. Clearly lacking the sort of feverish inventiveness that inspired Kelly's original screenplay, S. Darko gets its kicks by playing a tedious game of copycat. Early in the film, Samantha reaches into a television set and pulls out a feather. A strange girl appears and says, "Everything will be cold and dark," in a creepy monster voice before declaring, "Everything dies." Then there's a strange dream sequence involving a windmill. Premonitions about the end of the world are discussed by the creepy dream people, until they decide to jump down an endless tunnel made of Windows Media Player special effects.
The next morning, Samantha wakes up and discovers she's been sleepwalking. She goes back to the motel, and finds a mysterious object fell from the sky and crushed a windmill near her hotel. Something very similar happened in the previous film, but you know what? That fact is never even acknowledged by Samantha! Samantha never pauses to say, "Huh, that's so weird. This exact same thing happened to my house when I was a child starring in a better film than this one!" Actually, in her own timestream, not precisely the exact same thing happened, but what she knows should be more than enough to make her freak out about the coincidence of it all.
It becomes immediately clear that S. Darko is not so much interested in building on the Donnie Darko mythology as simply repeating it in a less interesting manner. Images, dialogue, and plot developments from the previous film are repeated unimaginatively. The film constantly decides to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks. "Hey, didn't the first film have, like, a lot of creepy images? Well, let's just put a bunch of creepy images of our own in the film just for the heck of it?" That's why we get stuff like slow-motion images of a girl in a bikini wearing an Uncle Sam mask jumping into a pool while throbbing rock music plays in the background. While we sensed Kelly was only hinting at a vast and complex world of mysterious secrets in Donnie Darko, one gets the sense they're just faking it here. In fact, many of the images are so blatantly pretentious I found them aggressively annoying. For instance, in the wake of a church fire, we see twisted bits of metal which have taken the form of crosses. A police officer at the scene announces the name of the primary suspect, and then says (with no sense of subtlety whatsoever), "This town will crucify him!" There are also scenes involving Frank the Rabbit which make absolutely no sense whatsoever, when filtered through the mythology of the first film. In fact, S. Darko won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't intimately familiar with the original, but those who are will undoubtedly be able to spot the constant B.S. on display. Bah!
How about the characters? They're pretty horrible, too. The only returning actor is Daveigh Chase, who has demonstrated some talent on programs like Big Love but is a bit of a blank space here. Her best friend is Corey (Briana Evigan, Step Up 2: The Streets), an obnoxious twit who spends most of her screen time mocking people she thinks are stupid. Most of these aforementioned people are the sort of one-dimensional stereotypes that should be banned from movies: Ned Flanders-style Christians who all read a book called "Jesusonomy" ("This town used to be decent. Then came all the drugs and the anus sex."), mentally troubled war veterans ("Agh! Get down! A bomb! They're coming!"), and bumbling law enforcement officers ("How do you explain the accident? I don't know, how do you explain sock monkeys or midgets?").
Anyway, this is yet another screener disc from Fox, which prevents me from discussing the transfer or audio. In terms of supplements, you get an audio commentary from the crew which is reasonably engaging but offers little in terms of insight. You get a brief making-of featurette, some deleted scenes, and a wacky country song called "Utah Too Much" that goes on far too long.
Look, I'd like to say some nice things about S. Darko. I didn't want to despise the movie. I had hopes it might at least be a pleasant way to spend 103 minutes. But it's not remotely engaging. Heck, it's barely even watchable. On a purely technical level, I've seen worse films. The cinematography is nice and the special effects are surprisingly respectable for a straight-to-DVD flick. But seriously, I've seen few movies recently that annoyed me as much as this one. Avoid this abomination at all costs.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes