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‘Don’t Worry Darling’ review: Don’t put all your eggs in one twist basket

Ryan Oquiza
‘Don’t Worry Darling’ review: Don’t put all your eggs in one twist basket

DON'T WORRY DARLING. Florence Pugh stars in Olivia Wilde's dystopian thriller.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Olivia Wilde's dystopian thriller is a lovely poison, meaning that while it's beautiful on the surface, it's disorienting and head-scratching underneath – mostly because of that twist

This is a spoiler-free review.

My biggest surprise in reading about Don’t Warry Darling is finding out that, aside from being a “dystopian thriller,” the film had the lofty goal of being a satire. Nothing in this film, from its gorgeous, lush 1950s landscapes to its immaculately designed gowns, ever brings to mind the characteristics of an ironic and exaggerated story ripe for satirical criticism.

That is, until the film reaches its twist ending (which I won’t spoil in this review), and everything gets turned upside down. Even then, director Olivia Wilde misses a crucial part of the satire (if that truly is what she was going for): to lower the guards of audiences and let them absorb the commentary implicitly. 

Because the message in Don’t Worry Darling is crystal clear, sometimes even self-explanatory. It’s filled with characters who function less like living, breathing humans, and more like ideas and symbols that will all make sense once the last 30 minutes of the film arrive. This might exactly be the point since the picture-perfect chrome world that Florence Pugh and Harry Styles inhabit makes no attempt at hiding its sinister nature from viewers.

And maybe they should’ve hidden their cards better, because the first act seems hellbent on creating intrigue rather than making its characters intriguing. Even when the big reveal attempts to land the plane, it’s rushed, head-scratching, and underwhelming, leading to a disaster that is only saved by its lead performance and utterly beautiful visuals and sound.

Don’t Worry Darling takes the point of view of Alice (Pugh), a housewife content with her domestic life in a mid-century suburb that looks mere miles away from Palm Springs. Jack (Styles) is her husband, who fancies parties, getting it on with her, and working diligently at the top-secret Victory Project. 

The marked leader of this small community is Frank (Chris Pine), a provocative cult figure based on Jordan Peterson, who Wilde describes as a “pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community.” Other supporting characters added to evoke an air of mystery are Margaret (Kiki Layne), Shelley (Gemma Chan), Peg (Kate Berlant), Violet (Sydney Chandler), and Wilde herself as Bunny.

Styles also isn’t alone in this suburbian fantasy as he’s joined by Nick Kroll, Asif Ali, Douglas Smith, and Ari’el Stachel in a band full of forgettable working husbands. It isn’t the ensemble’s fault that they weren’t able to do much in the film; they weren’t given much to do, anyways. It’s a pity, since Wilde had an arsenal of comedians, thespians, and a diverse set of actors who could’ve brought so much more to their roles, but most of it was left on the cutting room floor.

ONSCREEN COUPLE. Florence Pugh and Harry Styles play husband and wife in ‘Don’t Worry Darling.’ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

For instance, Layne, who plays a prominent adjacent role to Pugh’s Alice, shares that her scenes were cut from most of the film. And we all probably already know that this is the least of the behind-the-scenes worries that Don’t Worry Darling has had to endure. These edits make the narrative confusing, since events clearly feel like they need one or two more scenes beforehand to garner even a little semblance of logic.

If not logic, then at least some semblance of personality, because it was hard to latch onto anything else in this film other than its broad-stroke ideas and mystery setup. The first act of the film is way too procedural about its premise. It opens with a slice-of-life shot of all the characters partying and enjoying themselves, potentially a good way of endearing us to them. But after that, the script feels burdened by the responsibility to sprinkle hints that something is going to go wrong (as if we already didn’t know that).

It also doesn’t help that some of the key actors who are supposed to guide the audience through this ordeal cannot act naturally and confidently – which means, I guess, it’s time to talk about Styles now. Contrary to popular belief, I think he’s suited for this role. He’s charming, likable-without-even-trying, and gosh darn good-looking. He fully commits to the film and even works with the theme and message.

The problem is that a natural trait human beings have is to compare, and if you compare Styles with Pugh, Wilde, or Pine, it does not do Harry any favors. There’s a level of doubt in his performance, like he isn’t sure if he’s doing the right thing or not. And so he resorts to his “perpetually sad puppy face” that acts as a default whenever Matthew Libatique’s exceptional camerawork has to stay firmly in front of him.

Styles finds it hard to reciprocate the emotion of a scene. There’s a moment where Wilde directs a major emotional moment from the side, and you can only see half of the actors’ faces. Even with just the left side of her face visible, Pugh can do more than Styles’ unchanging and unsubtle facial movements. It’s not a horrible performance per se, but he’s just way out of his league here.

And then there’s the twist. It’s M. Night Shyamalan-esque, and it’s not The Sixth Sense kind. Normally, a bad twist won’t be earth-shattering for a film that manages to sustain a level of quality throughout, but Don’t Worry Darling depends so much on the twist reveal that if it doesn’t work, the Jenga tower almost certainly falls.

The comparisons to Get Out are fair since both films start with a more than perfect setting that the main characters find out is an unsettling nightmare. The difference is that Don’t Worry Darling wants you to immediately sniff that something is wrong, compared to how Get Out allows the under-the-surface racism and passive discrimination do all the talking. Only when the absurdity of what is actually happening can no longer be concealed does the film finally reveal its cards.

Don’t Worry Darling is impatient. As a result, once the explanation is given, the film must hastily shift into high gear to conclude the truckload of things it has set up. It’s then absolutely moronic that the film devotes a good chunk of what could’ve been meaningful exposition to a senseless action scene. All the mystery and intrigue are lost, what’s left are hollow characters and empty catharsis – sound and fury, signifying nothing. – Rappler.com

Don’t Worry Darling is now showing in Philippine cinemas.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is the chief film critic of SINEGANG.ph and one of the hosts of the film podcast Sine Simplified. He has written for both PhilSTAR Life and CNN Philippines Life. He is an alumnus of the Ricky Lee Screenwriting Workshop. He is currently studying at the University of the Philippines Diliman.