Runtime: 122 minutes
Director: Olivia Wilde
Writer: Katie Silberman
Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine
By Calum Cooper
*Warning: This review may contain mild spoilers*
Olivia Wilde came out swinging with her directorial debut “Booksmart” (2019). A hilarious, heartfelt look at sisterhood, it was one of the best coming-of-age comedies of the 2010s. Her follow-up, “Don’t Worry Darling” (2022), is certainly something different. It’s a bizarre experience that doesn’t always work. But underneath that is a noble attempt at experimentation and commentary.
Alice and Jack Chambers (Florence Pugh and Harry Styles respectively) are a couple who live in the seemingly utopian company town of Victory. Set in the 1950s, Alice is a stay-at-home housewife, and Jack is a workaholic breadwinner, at an occupation that remains a mystery to both Alice and the audience alike. When she begins having paranormal visions, Alice endeavours to make sense of them; actions that bring her face-to-face with a horrifying truth.
“Don’t Worry Darling” is a pretty blunt allegory about patriarchy; specifically the male need for control. The setting of the 50s, and its accompanying perceptions of gender traditions, are deliberately chosen. What initially seems to be a happy, loving dynamic between husband and wife, or even town and townsfolk, is actually a hierarchy in which one has all the power, and the other is expected to be dutiful. Alice cooks, cleans, and acts as Jack’s emotional support. In contrast, Jack is only ever seen cooking for Alice once, and badly too. One could easily see this as strategic on Jack’s part.
“Don’t Worry Darling” is a pretty blunt allegory about patriarchy; specifically the male need for control.
When Alice starts to have these visions, she is dismissed by her gaslighting husband and the Victory townsfolk, who tell her she’s being disrespectful in front of her hard-working husband. Yet Matthew Libatique’s hauntingly immersive cinematography conveys that these visions are – clearly – not the facade they want Alice to believe. John Powell’s nail-biting score intertwines with Wilde’s direction to showcase the sinister undertones of these visuals, as well as the imbalanced relationship between man and woman that, for so long, was considered the norm. Wilde’s use of long, drawn out sequences of suspense accompany the score to elevate the ominous nature of the mystery, and the overarching themes of misogyny. This is a film that would be right at home alongside M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” (2004) or Lorcan Finnegan’s “Vivarium” (2019).
Wilde keeps her cards close to her chest for much of the film. The combination of music, visuals, and editing maintain a consistent level of engagement. Yet the eventual twist rings hollow once we arrive there. Never mind that it’s not exactly difficult to work out, but the thematic implications feel underexplored. A show like Tima Shomali’s “AlRawabi School For Girls” (2021-) talks about patriarchy within a specific context (adolescence and the middle east), allowing for greater focus and deeper, more nuanced, analysis. The strokes of patriarchy explored in “Don’t Worry Darling” are a lot broader, and so the finer points get lost within the wider canvas of its presentation.
Perhaps another draft of the screenplay would have enriched the already interesting material on display. The characters are fairly well realised, and there is no shortage of flair either. The seeming symmetry of the costume and production design, of which the film alludes to in voiceover form, serve as great pieces of mise-en-scene, heightening the already uncanny atmosphere through the symmetrical designs of the town, and generic food products.
Pity the symmetry doesn’t extend to the acting. Florence Pugh is on top form as usual, her initially jovial elegance juxtaposing her later scenes of tension and terror. Chris Pine also serves as an eerie foil, with his character carrying an air of uneasy mystery that mixes well with the atmosphere. Yet Harry Styles leaves something to be desired. While not a bad performance per se, his overall delivery feels lacking, something that’s especially notable during scenes of outburst. One could even see his performance as an apt metaphor for the film itself – reasonably engaging, and certainly picturesque, but missing something on the whole.
With “Don’t Worry Darling”, Wilde, and screenwriter Katie Silberman, have made something very different to “Booksmart”. This showcases exciting promise from Wilde, who appears adamant to not be constrained to one genre. It’s a shame that the feminist themes of the story are somewhat shallow in presentation – especially compared to the thoughtful intricacy of the feminism displayed in “Booksmart”. But, nevertheless,“Don’t Worry Darling” still has plenty to offer for those who like psychological thrillers with an abundance of style, be that of Harry or its general aesthetic.
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