, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Cult movies are often beloved by their admirers beyond all other movies – passionately, fiercely, and with little truck for anyone or anything that tarnishes that movie’s reputation or their belief in it. Tell a fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) that anyone who attends a midnight screening in costume is a few sexual peccadilloes short of an orgy, and you’re likely to be slapped round the face with a posing pouch. But cult movies, by the nature of their fans’ love for them, will often attract producers with an eye to making a quick buck by exploiting said fans’ love and affection. Here’s one such movie, apparently made with the best of intentions but which in practice proved to be as far from those intentions as it’s possible to get.

S. Darko (2009) / D: Chris Fisher / 103m

S. Darko

Cast: Daveigh Chase, Briana Evigan, Jackson Rathbone, James Lafferty, Ed Westwick, Matthew Davis, John Hawkes, Bret Roberts, Elizabeth Berkley

By now – unless they’re trapped somewhere in the Fragmentary Universe – fans of Donnie Darko (2001) will have realised or heard that S. Darko is a less than satisfactory follow up to Richard Kelly’s surreal mindbender of a movie. With zero involvement from Kelly himself (not even a “good luck guys!”), this independently made sequel was created with the intention of taking place in “a similar world of blurred fantasy and reality”. Watching the movie, one thing is abundantly clear: neither director Chris Fisher nor screenwriter Nathan Atkins has any real idea of the world that Kelly created for Donnie Darko, or more importantly, the elements that made it all work.

The worst idea they have is to focus on Donnie’s younger sister, Samantha (Chase), as if by using one of Kelly’s original characters (and persuading the original actress to return to the role) it will lend their movie a degree of legitimacy it otherwise wouldn’t have. That this doesn’t work is evidenced by the way in which the character is treated. Samantha has run away from home, aged seventeen, with her best friend Corey (Evigan). When their car breaks down in Utah, the two friends accept a lift into the nearest town, Conejo Springs. Once there, Samantha finds herself sleepwalking; in this state she sees a future version of herself talking to a disturbed man nicknamed Iraq Jack (Lafferty). She tells him that the world will end in a few days’ time on July 4th.

S. Darko - scene3

Aside from passing on these messages, Samantha tends to wander aimlessly around town bumping into various locals and being treated like a bystander in her own storyline. She does get involved in the mystery of a missing child but it’s a subplot that, like large portions of the movie, hasn’t been thought through enough, and it feels like a distraction from the larger story. References to Donnie are made but Samantha’s reactions are muted, as if both Atkins and Chase don’t really know how to articulate her feelings over what happened to him at the end of Donnie Darko. What the script does do however, is saddle both the character (and the unfortunate Chase) with little motivation and even less development, preferring instead to treat Samantha in a callous (and careless) manner not once but twice (you’ll know how when you see the movie – not that you should, of course).

S. Darko - scene1

Atkins’ script is further muddled by its end of the world plotting, incoherent notions of time travel, secondary characters such as creepy bride of Jesus Trudy Kavanagh (Berkley), and inclusion of local nerd Jeremy (Rathbone) who develops a nasty looking rash that remains unexplained and immaterial to the narrative. There are further problems that Atkins can’t overcome, but the main one is his inability to craft dialogue that sounds like a real human being would say it. Here’s just one deathless exchange, between Samantha and local bad boy Randy (Westwick):

Samantha: I didn’t tell you something before. My brother died too. I was ten. Ever since that day, nothing’s ever been the same.

Randy: Never will be. We can’t change that.

Samantha: Think it’ll ever get easier?

Randy: Probably get worse.

Samantha: Maybe it’s up to us.

Randy: No.

Samantha: Wake up, start over?

Randy: I wish I could believe that. We have the same holes in our hearts, you and me.

That exchanges like that one are delivered with such po-faced sincerity makes it almost impossible to take the movie seriously. It’s like watching a teen movie where the leads are trying to make sense of relationship issues rather than fathom the mystery they’re all involved in. The plot – such as it is – is developed in fits and starts, and in such a haphazard manner that when it’s all wrapped up neatly (and with the cinematic equivalent of a bow on top), the viewer who’s managed to reach the end will be wondering what the previous ninety-five minutes were all about (or for).

S. Darko - scene2

Fisher may well be a fan of Kelly’s (emphasis on the) original movie, and he and Atkins may have set out to make a companion piece to that movie, but they show their complete lack of understanding of what made Donnie Darko such an extraordinary experience at every turn. Even on its own merits the movie struggles to perform effectively, with Fisher failing to inject any tension into the material, and leaving scenes feeling listless and uninvolving. The spirit of the original is missing entirely, as is the sense of mystery and chaos just beyond the veil of everyday life. And anyone waiting to see Frank put in an appearance, be prepared for disappointment; here his presence is entirely symbolic.

Rating: 3/10 – while using time lapse shots of clouds as indications of a portentous enigma may work in some movies, in S. Darko it merely serves to remind viewers of just how devoid of purpose and originality the movie really is; jumbled and unnecessary, it’s a movie that doesn’t even try hard enough to match its predecessor for subtlety or thought-provoking drama.