Saturday 10 December 2022

Movie Review: Don't Worry Darling (2022)

A dramatic mystery thriller, Don't Worry Darling adds a modern spark to established ideas.

In a 1950s setting, married couple Alice and Jack Chambers (Florence Pugh and Harry Styles) live in an idyllic company town called Victory, located on the edge of the desert. Jack joins all the men every morning as they go to work on a secret technology project led by the mysterious Frank (Chris Pine). Alice is friends with the other wives, including Bunny (Olivia Wilde), Shelley (Gemma Chan), and the pregnant Peg. They spend their days luxuriating by the pool and shopping, with everything around them operated by the company.

Alice notices Margaret (KiKi Layne), one of the wives, acting erratically. Then she witnesses a plane crash, leading her to discover and touch the company's out-of-bounds Headquarters building. She starts to suffer from strange visions and the same behaviours that afflicted Margaret. Despite Frank's smooth talk and Jack's attestations that everything is fine, Alice begins to suspect something is very weird about the town of Victory.

Written by Katie Silberman and directed by Olivia Wilde, Don't Worry Darling carries familiar echoes from The Stepford Wives, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Inception, among others. But once revealed, the secrets of Victory are also steeped in an evolved context where the thin line between technology's use and misuse becomes increasingly blurry.

On the way to the third act climax, Wilde creates stylish Douglas Sirk/Desperate Housewives mash-up fun with an undercurrent of mounting dread. The ecosystem of Victory provides an intriguing setting of creepy perfection, the men going to work secure in the knowledge that their gratified women are waiting for them at the end of the day. Alice and Jack are an attractive couple not beyond enjoying quick sex in the kitchen with guests milling in the next room, and with Jack on the fast track to success as Frank's next golden boy and Alice surrounded by happy friends, life is good.

Except that Margaret babbles incoherently and seems intent on killing herself, an airplane falls out of the sky and no one seems to care, and Alice starts suffering suspicions and visions (including Busby Berkeley-style dancing girls). Jack can never quite articulate exactly what it is he does for a living, and the middle chapter develops a delectable combination of rising tension and expert gaslighting.

The resolutions are frenzied and frantic, Wilde dumping a big load into the final 30 minutes at the expense of tight dramatic coherence. Pugh soldiers on, her central performance capably carrying the burden of discovery. Harry Styles is less convincing, and Pine is under-utilized.

Don't Worry Darling questions the essence of contentment by unleashing doubt on utopian suburbia. When everything seems quite perfect, it is indeed time to worry.

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