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“S. Darko“ is the direct-to-DVD cash-in sequel to “Donnie Darko“, writer-director Richard Kelly’s mystifying 2001 tale of teenage angst and existentialism with a time travel twist. When news originally broke that a sequel was being made without the involvement of Kelly, “Donnie Darko“ fans were outraged. For my part, I tried to keep an open mind. In general, I don’t that believe that any film is above having a sequel, “cult classic” or not.
Which is not to say I found “Donnie Darko“ all that deserving of the cult classic label in the first place. I give Kelly all the credit in the world for being ambitious, but the film’s take on teen suburban angst was about as deep as John Hughes films of the ‘80s. And the time travel element made no sense, with all of Kelly’s “explanations” only confusing matters more.
So, I really and truly went into “S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale“ with an open mind. The original film surely had enough unanswered questions to provide plenty of interesting material for a sequel, right?
Well, “Darko“ fans, I’m here to tell you that your rage was justified. Even as a direct-to-DVD low-budget film released with zero fanfare, “S. Darko“ is a stunning disappointment. It’s a rare sequel that actually makes me start to like the previous movie in retrospect.
For all its faults, at least “Donnie Darko“ was something the filmmakers poured their hearts into, and Kelly was blessed with an amazing cast that believed in the material. I appreciate that film so much more, now that I see what it might have been like with cheap special effects, subpar acting from the cast of “Gossip Girl“ and “One Tree Hill“, and a director with no clue what story he wanted to tell.
The central character of “S. Darko“ is Donnie’s little sister Samantha, played once again by Daveigh Chase, who had perhaps three lines in the original. Chase is now 18 and beautiful, but her acting abilities leave a lot to be desired. In no way is she ready to be the headlining star of any movie, low budget or not. Clearly, she was only brought on board to provide one of the few tenuous links to the original movie.
At the start, we’re told in a lengthy expositional crawl that Samantha ran away from home, in part due to her brother’s death seven years ago. And now, she and her best girl friend Corey are driving across country for unclear reasons. Their car breaks down, leaving them stranded in a small town where most of the film takes place.
Our first clue that some of Donnie’s weirdness has rubbed off on Samantha happens at a motel, when she wakes up in the middle of the night, reaches into a TV screen, and pulls out a glowing feather. She then appears to one of the townsfolk, a schizophrenic veteran of the first Gulf War named “Iraq Jack”. Samantha, all done up in corpse-like makeup, warns Iraq Jack that the world is going to end in less than a week.
Yes, for reasons known only to the filmmakers, Samantha is now taking on the “Frank” role, as in the guy in the evil bunny rabbit suit who appeared as a vision to Donnie in the first movie. What’s more, Samantha wakes up with no memories of any of this happening, though the film doesn’t really make this clear. Regardless, her warning allows Jack to avoid certain death due to, of all things, a crashing meteorite.
From there, things get even more bizarre. A nerdy guy in town takes the meteorite home, and discovers it contains new elements never seen before by man. On top of that, the meteorite is causing huge boils to erupt all over his skin, which Samantha helpfully describes as “gnarly”.
Meanwhile, Iraq Jack keeps receiving visions. Sometimes from Samantha, and sometimes from an abducted child who’s been missing for months. These visions command him to do various things, like burn down a church. Eventually, Jack flexes his metallurgical skills and creates his own evil bunny rabbit mask.
And if all that’s not strange enough for you, Elizabeth Berkley shows up, in the role of a Jesus freak. At least she can rest easy at night knowing she finally made a movie worse than “Showgirls“.
While there are a few scattered callbacks to the previous film, it seems the filmmakers saw “Donnie Darko“ and decided it was really about random things happening for no reason. Their follow-up story has no plot and no direction. You could start watching at pretty much any point in the movie and it wouldn’t make a difference.
There’s a moment where we’re led to believe the title character has been killed off at the 45-minute mark. And the only emotion this provokes is ennui. Honestly, the film could have ended with the whole world exploding into tiny soap bubbles and I probably would have just shrugged.
Instead, the movie ends with a shower of flaming meteors hitting the town, like a scene from “Armageddon“. Scratch that—these are actually tesseracts (four-dimensional cubes) from outer space, which briefly transform into flaming CGI eagles before crashing to the ground. I told you this movie makes no sense.
The original film took place in 1988, so it should only follow that “S. Darko” takes place in 1995. But there’s no effort put forth to making it look like 1995, other than a brief glimpse of the OJ Simpson trial on TV. And while the original film’s soundtrack was filled with ‘80s hits from the likes of INXS and Tears for Fears, the only ‘90s hit song the makers of “S. Darko“ could afford was Catherine Wheel’s “Black Metallic”. At one point, Samantha’s best friend actually uses the expression “tramp stamp”. In 1995. She should have just referenced Twitter while she was at it.
I still think “Donnie Darko“ is a film worthy of an interesting sequel. Richard Kelly’s own follow-up project “Southland Tales“ stiffed badly, and depending on how his next film “The Box“ is received, he may be looking to return to “Darko“ territory sooner rather than later. If that ever happens, fans can rest assured that every moment of this bogus “sequel” will be completely ignored.
Chris Fisher (director) / Nathan Atkins (screenplay), Richard Kelly (characters)
CAST: Daveigh Chase … Samantha
Briana Evigan … Corey
James Lafferty … Iraq Jack
Ed Westwick … Randy
Walter Platz … Frank
John Hawkes … Phil
Bret Roberts … Officer O’Dell
Jackson Rathbone … Jeremy