Reviewed by: Jamey Hughton
What's it about
Donnie Darkoís little sister, Samantha, has run away from home years after her brotherís sudden death. She and her hell-raising best friend end up in a desert town in Utah, where shit is about to get very weird.
Is it good movie?
Although it barely made a dent during its small theatrical run, DONNIE DARKO quickly achieved cult status on DVD. Richard Kellyís highly original blend of religious allegory, science fiction, and psycho-thriller rightfully didnít go unnoticed once people actually saw it and word of mouth started to circulate. For me, it was a great moment of discovery when I found out how hauntingly awesome DONNIE DARKO is. While itís a hard movie to pin down, there are many resonant themes at work Ė fear, control, faith, sacrifice. Itís a one-of-a-kind film, no doubt. So who else wasnít worried when they announced this sequel/spin-off/cash-in, which has no affiliation to the first outside of star Daveigh Chase? S. DARKO makes a valiant attempt to stay true to DONNIE, and thatís about where my affection for it ends.
I donít envy screenwriter Nathan Atkins for having this project laid at his feet. It would seem a continuation of this story would not only be pointless, but would inevitably come under fire from fans of the original. Atkinsí attempt to rework some of those themes in DONNIE DARKO has resulted in a sloppy second helping that carries none of the weight of the first film. Again, we are dealing with alternate realties, fractured timelines, destiny and fate. The water tentacles that spring from peopleís chests are back. Frank, the extremely scary rabbit who was Donnieís earlier messenger from the other side, makes an appearance Ė more or less. And once again, the end of the world countdown is used. Missing is any kind of emotional investment in the characters or story. S. DARKO feels like a lame imitation. No surprise. Itís hard to pull this kind of existential mind-trip off Ė if your name isnít Richard Kelly. Or David Lynch.
The movieís awful opening text scrawl tells us what little we should glean from Samanthaís character. She never really got over Donnieís death, and has been haunted by it ever since. Samantha never actually develops into a real character. She is used as a story prop for the filmmakers to reintroduce a lot of the mythology and ideas from DONNIE DARKO, but thereís no reason for us to care about her own journey throughout this film. Apparently, her connection to Donnie alone is sufficient back story, because thatís all Atkins ever divulges to us. What went so wrong at home that prompted her leaving? Why is she so lost, so forlorn, soÖ. pale? Itís anybodyís guess. It doesnít help that Chase (who Iíll remember best as little Samara in THE RING) gives an absolutely lifeless performance in the title role. At least the rest of the cast follows suit accordingly, to keep things consistent. Ed Westwick is excruciatingly one-note as the dreamy hunk who rolls through town. James Lafferty plays Iraqi Jack, a damaged Gulf War vet that everyone in town thinks is crazy. Heís just another void of a character, and another lost opportunity for something to hang on to here.
Remember the pointed black humor in DONNIE DARKO with Patrick Swayze as a student motivational guru who believed so strongly in the shit he was spinning? We get that rehashed here with a couple of religious nuts (played by Matthew Davis and Elizabeth Berkley) who try to sell Sam on how awesome God is. Chalk up another rehashed story point. If you remember the Swayze character in DONNIE, youíll know that these folks are harboring some kind of dark secret. All too predictable.
Despite being a badly mangled mess, the movie looks very nice at times. Director Chris Fisher is effective at establishing a dreamlike tone, and the opening shot Ė an homage to the opener in DONNIE - is a perfect mix of gorgeous and foreboding. Unfortunately, the movie continues on past the opening shot and proceeds in a steady decline from there.
Video / Audio
Video Widescreen 1.78:1
Audio 5.1 Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital
Commentary with director Chris Fisher, writer Nathan Atkins and Director of Photography Marvin Rush Fisher hogs the spotlight a little bit, but this is still an interesting track. A lot of the talk about the approach to time travel paradoxes and such is cool, and the pace remains consistent throughout.
The Making of S. Darko A 15-minute featurette that goes on in great detail of the trepidation that went into the making of a sequel to DONNIE DARKO. Mostly the typical cast and crew interviews. Daveigh Chase apparently has no idea what the movie is about.
You also get six Deleted Scenes, a handful of Trailers and a neat addition called UTAH TOO MUtah Too Much, which talks about filming in the great state of Utah and features a song written by the totally awesome John Hawkes and a few other cast members.
Tastes like bad leftovers. If DONNIE DARKO was pleasantly mystifying, then S. DARKO is thoroughly frustrating. When stacked up against the original, it really does ring hollow.