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Donnie Darko

In his feature debut, writer/director Richard Kelly has crafted a dark, twisted coming of age tale, that comes across as an episode of 'The X Files', if it was written by David Lynch and directed by John Hughes.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a somewhat disturbed teenager from a mildly dysfunctional family, growing up in the mid 1980's. He takes medication, sees a psychiatrist and generally bumbles his way through school, filled with the feeling that he doesn't belong. Now you'd imagine that this is a relatively common occurrence amongst American teenagers of the time, but what sets Donnie apart from his school colleagues is his friend, Frank. Frank is a six foot tall, demonic rabbit, who has a nasty habit of appearing at the most inopportune moments and telling Donnie to commit destructive crimes that, apparently, will prevent the end of the world.

From a set-up with such a sense of the ridiculous, Kelly pulls together a tightly interwoven story combining such disparate strands as child abuse, dementia, the hand of fate and even the pro's and con's of time travelling. If your head doesn't hurt by the end of your first viewing - then you weren't watching the same movie as I was! And that's where 'Donnie Darko' really excels - unlike some movies that demand a second viewing, this one actually improves with each one. Kelly has constructed such a tightly layered movie that it is truly impossible to grasp all of its concepts on a first pass.

The performances are workmanlike, with the exception of Gyllenhaal, who is astonishing in his performance, infusing Donnie with a sense of despair as he questions his place in the world. There is also a nice cameo from Patrick Swayze (in keeping with the 80's theme!) as a slimy, motivational speaker. But it seems churlish to criticize Kelly's handling of the actors - this is his first feature after all. And to attempt such an intelligent, well structured film (regardless of how odd the concept of a demonic rabbit may sound to prospective viewers!) shows great belief in his own talents. And with very good reason. With directors like him, PT Anderson and David Fincher, Hollywood is in very safe hands for the future.

To be sure, this won't suit most of the weekend popcorn munchers down at the multiplex and it's a shame that the movie may not attract the audience it deserves. But, in twenty years time when you're chatting with your mates in the pub about that creepy movie that pops up on TV from time to time "with that odd looking kid and the guy dressed as the rabbit", just remember what Sean G said about it....

A cult classic in the making - no mistake


Sean G

Picture from Newmarket films click here to visit official Donnie Darko site