"Don't Worry Darling" stars Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine. Released on September 23, 2022, the film has a young woman investigating a secret project in a company town.
The film is directed by Olivia Wilde, who's known for directing "Booksmart". If there's a town that's 100% perfect and filled with nothing but joyous people, there's a good chance that there's something freaky hidden within its walls. People will say everything's fine, but you can't help but feel it's not. This latest thriller shows that the 1950s may not be a glamorous decade as we thought it was, especially when we're living in a company town owned by a mysterious person. This film marks the latest project to be helmed by actress Olivia Wilde, who made headlines for her fantastic debut "Booksmart" in 2019. Now, here's something interesting about this sophomore debut. While "Booksmart" is a coming-of-age teen comedy about two best friends graduating high school, her second project is a psychological thriller involving a town with a messed-up secret. It's a change of pace that could test Wilde's skill as an up-and-coming filmmaker. Since I loved "Booksmart" when it first came out, I was highly interested in seeing what Wilde could do to provide some thrills and psychological madness into a plot like this. With that in mind, let's visit this mysterious town and see if it's creepy enough to mark another win for Wilde.
The story follows Alice Chambers (Pugh), a young, devoted housewife living with her beloved husband Jack (Styles) in the 1950s. Alice and Jack live in the seemingly perfect town of Victory, California, which was created and paid for by a company owned by Frank (Pine). However, Alice's life gradually changes when she spots a series of strange events. Alice later discovers that the company is working on the mysterious "Victory Project", which they believe would help the town. As Alice further investigates the community's secrets, she comes closer and closer to the truth that could forever alter their way of life.
The thing to know about sophomore debuts is that they're tests to see if a new director is either only a one-hit wonder or a passionate storyteller with a bright future. There have been plenty of fresh directors that struggled to match their debuts' successes with their second films, such as Josh Trank for his "Fantastic Four" reboot and Tim Miller for "Terminator: Dark Fate". However, there are also a few that accomplished this challenging feat, with the primary example being Jordan Peele for "Us". Olivia Wilde fits into this category nicely, but the genre change in her second feature makes this challenge even more intriguing. It allows the viewers to see if Wilde is capable enough to handle more than one genre effectively. Many have succeeded, while others have failed miserably. Sadly, Olivia Wilde's sophomore debut puts her in the latter category.
The film's story had plenty of interesting elements that would've made it into an entertaining and mysterious descent into madness, including its social commentary. Unfortunately, they weren't able to combine themselves into something extraordinary. As a result, it became a muddled and painfully fright-free retread of better films with similar themes, including "The Stepford Wives". Thankfully, the first and second acts of the film were tolerable. They allowed Wilde to express the visually vibrant world of a 1950s utopia and some of its acid-trip-like sequences. Although she's promising with the movie's dramatic moments, her ability to provide the psychological madness in its build-up and mystery may not be her strongest aspect. It definitely has some messed-up stuff in its dream-like hallucinations and disturbing content. However, they barely scratch the surface in delivering a mind-bending experience from an entertainment and frightful perspective.
Then there's the film's third act, which wasn't as shocking as I thought. Don't worry. I won't spoil it if you haven't watched it yet. I can understand what screenwriter Katie Silberman (who worked with Wilde on "Booksmart") was trying to accomplish in the finale, especially with its twist and commentary. Unfortunately, she struggled with combining its modern thriller tropes with its thought-provoking message. Plus, I saw the twist coming a mile away, which altered my experience. The finale had a chance to make this formulaic psychological trip down Madness Lane more enjoyable. Instead, it made the movie a lifeless chore with its predictability and divisive ending.
On the bright side, the movie didn't disappoint with its cast. Florence Pugh is no stranger to starring in some creepy and thrilling projects, so it's no surprise to see her deliver another excellent performance in something like this. Her role as Alice sends off gleefully chilling vibes with the character's undeniable urge to figure out the truth. Chris Pine also did well in portraying Frank. His performance reflects a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing personality that's joyous to watch but also attractively uncomfortable. If you have the same feeling while watching Pine onscreen, that means he did something right. Finally, there has been a lot of talk about Harry Styles' performance as Jack, with most people calling it one of the weakest parts of the movie. Honestly, I thought he was okay. It's not as horrendous as people say it was, but he's far from spectacular compared to the other actors. However, I do feel that his character could've been portrayed better. At least Styles looks handsome enough to impress his fans regardless of his acting talents.
As mentioned earlier, Olivia Wilde delivered a well-established 1950s setting that would've belonged in a "Twilight Zone" episode. Part of that is due to its production design, which highlights the colorful nature of its suburban streets and the desert plains. I was also impressed with Matthew Libatique's cinematography for the wide-angle shots and mesmerizing sceneries. In short, "Don't Worry Darling" seemed more confident in how it looks than in how it portrays the narrative. It's all glamor and style, but the pizazz just wasn't there.
Overall, "Don't Worry Darling" is an unsatisfying and scare-less thriller that makes me want to escape this life myself. It's got the ingredients needed to make a successful thrill ride of the fall season. It's got a great list of talented people on board, including Olivia Wilde and Katie Silberman from "Booksmart" fame, and an intriguingly creepy premise. Unfortunately, the only ingredient that it forgot to add in was the execution. While it's not the worst movie I've seen this year, it's still a lackluster representation of great films with familiar ideas despite its decent visual style. Audiences who admire the people on and off the camera deserve a better life than this.