Don’t Worry Darling is a Sci-Fi Thriller Caught up in its Own Ambition
Don’t Worry Darling screening provided by Universal Pictures
“Don’t Worry Darling is far too caught up in getting across its weighty themes and messages, but without ever developing them at the level of story and plot”
Looks can be deceiving, especially when you don’t exactly know what you’re looking at even after the fact. That’s especially true in Olivia Wilde’s latest sci-fi thriller, Don’t Worry Darling (2022), where everything looks too good to be true, but what’s in fact true really isn’t that interesting when all is said and done. That might be because this is a film that is far too caught up in getting across its weighty themes (power dynamics, control, gender politics) and messages, but without ever developing them at the level of story and plot.
It all takes place in the 50s era town of “Victory”, a perfectly constructed setting comprised of slick hairstyles, fancy cars and pointy picket fences. The men leave their houses in perfect harmony for work they cannot speak of (something about the “development of progressive materials”), while their wives all stand in equally perfect harmony and wave them goodbye. Put simply, everything is too perfect, and that’s largely because it is. The townsfolk turn an eye to anything that might seem irregular, because…well… why would it be?
That is until Alice (played by the incomparable Florence Pugh), one of the housewives of the town, begins to feel that not everything is sunshine and rainbows like she’s been led to believe. Strange occurrences start happening including random visions she has, her neighbour Margaret (Kiki Layne) begins spewing what everyone writes off as nonsense, and Alice witnesses a plane crash in the far reaches of the desert where the Victory Project headquarters are, and where residents are forbidden from going — but where she goes, nonetheless.
It’s safe to say that “Victory” is a strange place and Wilde makes sure you know that. Characters speak like non-playable characters (NPC’s) from video games, and artifice finds a way to cover any hints of strangeness that might pop its head (or slit its throat) at any given moment. It’s the town chief, Frank (a cool and calculated Chris Pine) who restores balance when the scale of tranquillity in Victory threatens to be tipped over. He’s easily the most interesting character in the film, given, for starters, that he knows more than everyone else and Pine can therefore play him with a sinister charm that’s often found in similar characters in similar circumstances (like Bradley Whitford’s character in 2017’s Get Out).
The same can’t be said for Pine and Pugh’s less experienced counterpart, Harry Styles. The singer-turned-part-time-actor was cast following the departure of Shia LaBeouf and he seems even more out of place in Wilde’s wild world if not for his pop-star status in his off-screen life, than definitely for his lacking performative presence in his on-screen one. Styles never matches the emotional weight that Pugh brings to the table, and rather than spring boarding her characters’ arc forward by challenging her when the plot requires it, Pugh’s brilliance simply bounces off of him.
Don’t Worry Darling has more glaring problems than Styles though. It’s the sort of film that you would expect to unravel its nooks and crannies tastefully and in such a way where it answers any early narrative questions rather than continually stacking more on top of each other. The initial intrigue of the film stems from the very desire to see what is beneath all the veneer that is plastered over the town. But as Wilde takes you through her striking imagery (comprised mainly of circles that are made to represent the shape of the human eye) and puts Pugh through the motions, she also struggles to take you beyond that until she eventually does (some ¾ into the film). As a consequence, the result is not as worthwhile as you’re led on to believe which makes the journey seem just as unfulfilling.
That’s not to say that there aren’t glimmers of brilliance in the film; tension is at its best in the opening 20 or so minutes and as mentioned, Pugh cashes in another assured performance. But beyond that, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Wilde has bitten off more than she can chew following the success of her more intimate and heartfelt comedy, Booksmart (2019). Her second outing in the directors chair is much more audacious, and consequently less refined. It’s like if Wandavision met Severance, and even then those shows were less conspicuous in how they portrayed and developed their stories.
Don’t Worry Darling opens nationally from the 6th of October, 2022.
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