Man, I can hardly find a single positive word about this movie online, and I’m frankly mystified. Given one of the most dubious and potentially pointless tasks in movie history, “Make a sequel to Donnie Darko,” I feel the filmmakers did a thoughtful and somewhat marvelous job.
It’s no Donnie Darko, don’t get me wrong. The original is one of my all time faves, but this story of Donnie’s little sister Samantha isn’t meant to be and shouldn’t be taken as a “continuation,” despite taking place a few years later.
Rather, it’s more of a flipside: the Darko universe, where timeslips can cause ripple effects that destroy reality, as it relates to the “manipulated dead,” who are charged with the task of at least attempting to mend the damage. Whether they want to or not.
Frank the Doomsayer Bunny in the original Darko was one of the manipulated dead -- this time, Frank’s POV is examined as his task falls on others (note the plural: S. Darko isn’t just the story of Donnie’s sister, even if it seems to be during the first hour or so…it’s that sort of Serling/M Night/O Henry/D Darko turnaround of all you thought you knew that allows S. Darko to successfully capture the feel of the original, while telling an altogether different story).
I recommend that S. Darko viewers listen to the DVD commentary, and you’ll see what I mean about the careful thought and consideration put into it by the writer and director. Every little detail in their film fits perfectly into world(s) portrayed in the original cult classic. They are clearly true fans of Donnie, and they truly understood (as well as anyone can) the universe created for the characters to exist within --
Part of S. Darko’s appeal, for me, is the LOOK of the film. Shot with a new “red camera” technology that allows for digital film that still closely mirrors 35mm, I was astounded by the Utah landscapes and the way the characters and their dusty little town appear so crisply delineated, yet still so warmly rendered, with a depth of field that flatters and beautifies both inanimate objects and the charismatic cast, all of whom are outstanding.
I’d single out S. Darko herself, Daveigh Chase, reprising her original sparse role in the original as Donnie’s little sister Samantha, as particularly riveting. Not just because she’s lovely, but for her wandering and ethereal portrayal of a lost young woman whose fate -- in life and beyond -- is something she seems to already know that she has no control over.
Samantha even keeps acting out her fate in various ways, as if rehearsing for a play she’s never read and doesn’t even know exists, before it actually happens to her. She remains warily aloof and apart from the world around her, even as events in her life illustrate her integral (if involuntary, and possibly unwilling) role in saving that world.
Some people in the Darko universe have the power to change the future. But, perversely/inversely (and sadly), others are doomed to play supporting roles that ensure the big-picture events play out as fated.
Else the universe could be destroyed.
SPOILER ‘GRAPH (most obvious spoiler, anyway): Great to be the essentially superpowered (or at least hyper-evolved, or super-aware) Donnie. Except you have to die to save everyone. Bummer to be his sister, or to be one of the Manipulated Dead.
However, their role in saving the universe is no less important, perhaps even more so, or the powerful Donnie(s) would never know what to do, or how to do it (or even that anything needs to be done at all).
OR, think of it this way: gotta have apostles, even tho there’s only one Jesus, and he gets to call the shots AND gets all the glory. But every single thing we (think we) know about the Jesus story comes from the apostles, doesn’t it, and how could Jesus’ have happened without them????
Sher, there are some “red herring” bits that never really pay off (and may in fact be continuity errors) in S. Darko -- same with Donnie, tho I admit it’s more of a challenge to piece together what you’ve just seen after viewing S. However, I DID find myself thinking about S/D a lot after viewing, reaching several “aha” conclusions that may or may not be valid or intended.
Just like after I viewed Donnie the first time (and the second, third, and fourth times).
And the new metal bunny head, obsessively created and worn by Iraq Jack, even tho it makes his head bleed, totally rocks! THIS is a bunny that’d get my attention, a rabid rabbit that can't help but inspire life-changing (and ultimately world-changing) action on my part. And a Helluva lot quicker (and better) than the fuzzy dime-store Frank of the original Donnie!
I have to wonder if someone saw S. Darko who was completely unfamiliar with Donnie wouldn’t find it a fine movie? Maybe they’d love S/D’s ambiguous and thought-provoking story a bunch, just like so many of us when we first saw Donnie.
IMHO, S. Darko fills in the backstory efficiently and intriguingly, so maybe S/D is best enjoyed by viewers who AREN’T already fans of the first Donnie. Those original fans certainly don’t seem to be the right audience for S/D, as they seem to universally hate and pan the sequel.
An aside: If someone’s first Planet of the Apes movie they see is Escape From the Planet of the Apes, the third entry where the entire story is flipped upside down, they’ll probably like it fine. Perhaps even better than the Heston original, once they finally see it. The first movie is great, sure. But Escape -- tho completely different -- is also a terrific and engaging flick. Same universe, a couple of the same characters, but a wholly different take and setting --
I wish more people would give S. Darko a chance. It’s no Donnie Darko, sure.
But it’s a fine Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
You probably know the song “Mad World” from the first Donnie Darko film (a Tears For Fears cover co-created by local guitarist Mike Andrews of the Greyboy Allstars) – well checkout this trailer for S Darko set to “Mad World”, and see if it doesn’t make you wanna screen this epically underrated flick --
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