Don’t Worry Darling (2022)
Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Genre: Psychological Thriller and Mystery Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

Release Date: September 23rd, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Olivia Wilde Actors: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Timothy Simons, Nick Kroll

 


 

T

hree couples party heartily, drinking and laughing and kissing, before two of them, Jack (Harry Styles) and Alice (Florence Pugh), break away to joyride in the desert – an act that segues into breakfast the next morning, during which they plan for yet another party. As it turns out, the group of friends are next-door neighbors as well, with the three wives bidding farewell to their respective husbands, each exiting their picturesque houses to depart in colorful cars, like something out of a ‘50s sitcom. Indeed, they live in an experimental housing complex called the Victory Project (not unlike an idea seen in Netflix’s new “Resident Evil” series), where the men are employed, doing secretive, progressive, very important work.

Meanwhile, the women in the little town spend their time cooking, cleaning, hanging laundry, tending to children, relaxing poolside to gossip, and attending ballet lessons. They also have plenty of opportunities to enjoy midday cocktails. But something is clearly amiss in this superficial paradise; odd episodes crop up, from disturbing visions to a haunting earworm to a carton of hollow eggs. “There is beauty in control …”

It’s almost immediately obvious that Alice’s existence is something of a facade or illusion, considering that questions are never asked and answers aren’t given concerning what exactly the Victory Project is. Some behaviors are unsettling, while a mysterious, cult-like leader (Chris Pine) holds sway over everyone in the community, warning about the dangers of crossing beyond the boundaries of the suburb. “The only thing they ask of us is to stay here where it’s safe.”

It’s quite the mystery. Is Alice losing her mind? Are some of these people Stepford Wives or body snatchers or “Under the Skin” aliens? Are they plugged into the Matrix? Are they touring Westworld or the alternate reality of “Vanilla Sky”? Are they inside “The Thirteenth Floor” or the “Dark City” or a prison from “Fortress” or avatars from “Surrogates”? Maybe they’re experiencing the mind control of “The Manchurian Candidate” or a brand new existence like in “Seconds.” Either way, the contentedness from the women seems unlikely, to say the least, with so few explanations contrasting the frequent talks about changing the world for the better – all without any specifics. Blissful ignorance isn’t entirely authentic, especially when the prime tradeoff is nothing more than a few shopping sprees and loads of lounging and leisure.

Although the curiosities pile up inexplicably, surrounded by infuriating moments of gaslighting (“Please don’t get hysterical”), the premise is engaging. With notes of isolation, paranoia, indoctrination, betrayal, disbelief from friends and authority figures, and distrust from loved ones, the stage is set for genuine scares. And since the bulk of the picture is shown from Alice’s perspective, viewers are trapped with her in her nightmare, discovering mere shreds of clues as she attempts to sort out her tenuous grasp on reality (a progression nicely held together by Pugh’s skills as a leading everywoman). Plus, with the abundance of hallucinations, the film maintains a sense of creepiness, utilizing countless shots of mirrors, flashes of bizarre imagery, and superb sound designs that boast unnerving vocals. Anything could happen at any moment, lending to plenty of jumpy sequences. “We shouldn’t be here.”

Problematically, as “Don’t Worry Darling” works to keep audiences at the edges of their seats, it starves them of answers; it often withholds pertinent information for so long (too long, with this runtime) that some may simply lose interest. There’s purposeful frustration in the pacing, but it’s nonetheless aggravating, chiefly with the love story, which finds Alice exhibiting an unexcelled patience with her husband. Still, even before details finally arrive, it’s evident that the constant jitteriness commands entertaining psychological thrills. This is the kind of chiller that borrows enough components from other properties that many scenes will surely feel as if seen somewhere before, yet the span of the derivativeness makes it difficult to fully recall – an amalgam that proves routinely absorbing, even if originality isn’t its strong suit.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10