Don’t let the dual disappointments of Southland Tales and The Box trick you into thinking we were all wrong about Richard Kelly’s debut movie.
Nine years and one director’s cut and sequel later, it’s still a powerfully impressive calling card. What’s remarkable and rare about Donnie Darko is how it manages to pull so many genre faces at once.
Packaged like a horror, it borrows the same leafy suburbia and high-school settings as Halloween and Carrie, yet it’s also a convincing small-town drama about teenage alienation in the accent of Catcher In The Rye, while managing to dip its toes into scientific concepts so mind-mangling you’ll need to read some Stephen Hawking to chillax afterwards.
And while, on one level, it’s a hypnotic mood piece, there are hints at hard, rational reasons for all the dreamy madness Donnie is caught up in. As the British-angled documentary ‘They Made Me Do It’ suggests, Donnie Darko is a Rorschach test of a movie.
Interestingly, all the film’s fans and champions ignore the less favourably received Director’s Cut, which stomps on some of the gorgeous ambiguity of the original.
That version appears here as a bonus disc, but the extra 20 minutes and soundtrack changes (what? No ‘Killing Moon’?) make you wonder whether the supposed artistic authority of directors over producers is always so cut and dried.
Part of why we embraced Donnie Darko to our critical bosom in 2001 was its woozy reluctance to explain itself. So beware, like the director’s cut, the audio commentary in which Richard Kelly clearly forgets the lessons of his hero David Lynch to let the art do the talking.
He’s joined by an affable Jake Gyllenhaal, but the cast and crew option is more spirited and reveals the stories you want to hear. And over there, on the other disc, Kevin Smith joins Kelly for a third commentary in order to wring every last delicious mystery from the film.
What the extras are missing is a good retrospective Making Of.
There’s a generous hour-long production diary by Director of Photography Steven Poster (with an additional commentary) and plenty of 2001-era interviews with the cast and crew, but precious little that has the luxury of looking back with perspective.
However, the picture quality is astounding and an already immersive film is made even more seductive by the 1080 upgrade. This is one rabbit hunt you’ll want to be a part of.
One of the very best films of the Noughties, this is a must-have for your Blu-ray shelf.