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Donnie Darko (2001) Film Review

Updated: Apr 27

Melissa Garza

LFS TAMIU Treasurer

Melissa Garza, LFS TAMIU Treasurer

A great film to watch during October (and in anticipation of Halloween) would have to be Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001). I was able to rewatch it recently at our very own Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. If any film deserves the quintessential movie theater experience of being seen on the big screen alongside a full audience, it would be this one, without a doubt.

This is because, in its runtime of nearly two hours, viewers are in for a treat for their eyes and ears. Dazzling and experimental cinematography is fittingly accompanied by a nostalgic and haunting soundtrack featuring the likes of Joy Division, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears.

Fittingly, the film is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It is an original and riveting story that revolves around the titular main character, Donnie Darko, portrayed by a young Jake Gyllenhaal. Additionally, it boasts a star-studded cast— Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze, Seth Rogen, and Drew Barrymore, to list a few.

Donnie Darko was originally recommended to me by a friend who predicted that I would like the film based on some of my other favorite films. Although I had heard of it before, I had not had the pleasure to watch it until a few weeks ago. I ultimately found myself incredibly moved by the entirety of it.

At its heart, this is a coming-of-age story. Donnie, a troubled teen, finds himself entangled in a series of strange incidents that gradually turn his sleepy hometown of Middlesex, Virginia upside down. Regardless, Donnie is still shown trying to live his life as a normal teen. Amidst being shrouded by oddities, his adolescence is handled wistfully: suburbia’s mundanity becomes precious and grounds a wandering Donnie. One comes to resonate with Donnie’s shifting feelings— concerns about being an outsider and a fear of the uncertain future.

Overall, the film consists of a daring mix of comedy, sci-fi, horror, mystery, and romance genre elements that simply work in its favor. This is because they all balance each other out; nothing is seemingly overdone or overused. Due to this, it may even be a bit difficult to try to categorize this film into one specific genre. The aforementioned ideas contribute a distinctive appeal that led to the film’s cult classic status after its initial release in 2001.

When all is said and done, Donnie Darko possesses an incredible rewatch factor. It is the kind of film where you can spot new details and easter eggs with every viewing. The ambiguous ending (something to keep in mind if you prefer films with straightforward endings) allows you to come up with your own interpretation given your understanding of the film.

The mysterious and unsettling feel of Donnie Darko is what makes it the perfect addition to your Halloween film queue this year. This film and its notions will likely stick around with you long after the credits roll.

Happy viewing and Happy Halloween to all!

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