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S. Darko: Donnie for Dummies

July 3, 2009

Please allow me to reminisce for just a moment.  I had first read in Fangoria magazine about a troubled teen’s experiences with an oversized rabbit back in 1999.  There was something about the image of the rabbit that intrigued me; so when it finally made its way to DVD I immediately picked it up.  Donnie opens in silence. The camera pans slowly over a mountain road, looking out toward the dark, morning sky across the hills and toward the mountains.  We see a boy in his pajamas, slowly animating.  He climbs on his ten speed, the music fills the senses, and we follow him as he races home.  Upon his arrival, we meet his family, each in their own little worlds.  And before the opening credits roll, Richard Kelly has brilliantly laid the foundations for Donnie Darko’s complex, metaphorical journey. 

If you are reading this review, chances are you have explored the strange, convoluted world of Kelly’s manipulated dead on more than one occasion.  Donnie’s cult status has as much to do with its brilliance as it does with its complexity and, arguably, its convolution.  8 years later, we get S. Darko.  Upon the announcement of its development status, I wavered between wonder and doubt, and ultimately settled on indifference.

Chris Fisher works hard early to recreate Donnie’s world.  S. Darko opens quietly, the morning sun still a glimmer behind the hills.  The camera moves slowly and settles behind Sam, returning original cast member Daveigh Chase, who sits, hands wrapped around knees, on the side of the open road.  Queue instrumental, and we are officially transported back to Richard Kelly’s atmosphere.  And for most of the first 10 minutes, things are looking good. 

Samantha, a runaway, is on a road trip with best friend Corey, Briana Evigan (daughter of BJ and the Bear’s Greg Evigan); and Fisher captures the freedom of the open road as the car speeds down the freeway.  Slow motion, close up, and bright colors continue to make us believe that this sequal has promise.  But then the car breaks down, and stranger Randy pulls up in his red Firebird.  We learn that Samantha is “an ice queen” and we “practically need a flamethrower to get inside that.”  “Want me to take a look,” Randy replies.  “Where?” the girls snap in unison.  Clever, at least.  So the girls are taken to the nearby town. 

Practically penniless and headed to California to work in Corey’s father’s bar, the girls find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere.  A preacher, an Iraq war veteran, a hotel manager, a waitress, and the town’s police officer make up most of the supporting players, and this is where S. Darko immediately fails.  Sam appears zombified next to Iraq Jack, sitting atop the platform 15 feet above the ground.  In a demonic voice, not quite the same as the original rabbit’s, she tells Iraq Jack when the world will end.  As a meteor falls from the sky, they slide down the wormhole and out of danger.  And from here, unfortunately, it seems like S. Darko will never end.

Sam, now 18, spends the whole film sulking and bored, and eventually it rubs off on everyone around her.  S. Darko, in taking Sam away from her family and placing her in an unknown place surrounded by strangers, has taken the charm and mystery out of the story.  There is no one to care about, and although no character in the movie is truly bad, they are all bland.  Fisher tries to extract as much from Nathan Atkins linear, connect the dots script as he can, but there is nothing new to say.

S. Darko connects all the dots, mentions Donnie and family, coincidentally includes the grandson of Roberta Sparrow, and even believes that just showing the History of Time Travel book, multiple times in close up, is enough to interest the audience.  But it is not, and sadly, S. Darko is an inferior retelling of a master work.  Fisher does not further the mythology; Fisher does not delve deeper into the idea of the manipulated dead; Fisher does not introduce any new ideas.  The one question I could not stop asking myself was this: Who funded a sequal to a cult film about a complex, somewhat confusing idea populated with cool young,  actors and even cooler music that took years to find its audience?  

S. Darko is ultimately an unsatisfying visit to Richard Kelly’s orginal tale, leaving little to the imagination. But it doesn’t do any harm to it either. Fisher and screenwriter Atkins clearly respect the original and, in spite of their ultimate failure, deserve props for trying to bring more of it to Donnie’s core fans.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 12, 2009 10:55 pm

    A very fair review.
    I tend to agree with you – it’s definitely not an amazing film and in some senses of the word, it’s unnecessary. But it’s reasonably harmless and there is a lot in it all the same, albeit nothing new.
    It sort of washes over you in a wave of indifference.

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