A troubled teenage boy, with a worrying penchant for waking up in the middle of a road, is warned by a giant rabbit that the end of the world is nigh. After a heady mix of mental illness, time travel, love and paranoia, things are nicely wrapped up in a truly mind-bending finale. All set to a 1980s soundtrack featuring Tears For Fears and Echo And The Bunnymen. As you may have gathered, Donnie Darko is not another teen movie.
The debut feature from director Richard Kelly was sat awaiting a distributor in the United Kingdom for nigh on a year and it’s not hard to see why. This is almost an unmarketable film, which doesn’t fit neatly into any convenient pigeonholes. This, of course, is a good thing.
Jake Gyllenhaal, in the sort of performance that makes a career, plays the eponymous Donnie who may (or may not) be suffering from schizophrenia. When a giant rabbit comes to him in his sleep and warns that the world will end in 28 days, he leaves the house, thus missing a plane’s jet engine that crashes into his bedroom. This, and the arrival of comely girl next door Jena Malone, sets in trail a series of nigh on apocalyptic events.
To say anymore about the plot would be ruining the film, but suffice to say that this is an outstanding debut from Kelly. He’s often been compared to David Lynch, and although Donnie Darko is maybe not as accomplished as Lynch’s best work such as Mulholland Drive, it is still brilliantly original. What Kelly shares with Lynch is to convey a real sense of foreboding – it’s impossible when watching this film not to imagine that something really, really bad is about to happen. The use of music is also inspired. From the opening title sequence of The Killing Moon by Echo And The Bunnyman, through a memorable scene near the end using a slowed down version of Mad World by Tears For Fears, the music utterly suits the film.
Kelly’s casting is also spot on. Gyllenhaal, not to put too fine a point on things, is remarkable. Sleepy eyed and utterly charismatic, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing Donnie. With good reviews for his upcoming role in the Jennifer Aniston starring The Good Girl, Gyllenhall is about to become a huge star. Elsewhere, Drew Barrymore, Katherine Ross, Noah Wyle and most effectively, Patrick Swayze, all make appearances. Those who had given up on Swayze ever making a decent film will be pleasantly surprised here. His ‘inspirational guru’ is fantastically creepy, and the scene where Donnie sets fire to his house, backed by Duran Duran‘s Notorious is one of the scenes of the year.
Donnie Darko is a film with ‘cult hit’ written all over it. It will no doubt enthrall and bewilder equal amounts of people, and announces the arrival of two major talents in Kelly and Gyllenhaal. It’ll be interesting to see what type of journey they both take from now.