Kian Henderson-Cowley’s review published on Letterboxd:
Okay so I’m pretty sure I’ve viewed Richard Kelly’s filmography in the wrong order, as what Donnie Darko means to so many of you is what Southland Tales means to me, but goddamn if the man’s work isn’t an uninterrupted hat-trick of astounding, broad minded eccentricity that’s enthralled me every step of the way! Richard Kelly continues to be a based observer of socially acceptable ineptitude and malice in his first psychological horror picture, often cited as one of the strongest debuts in cinema history. Deservedly so, as Donnie Darko encapsulates the essence of Kelly before he became known as the visionary whose supply dragged behind his mind’s demands, as well as projecting the woes plaguing him and synonymously conducting his work in its most succinct form.
I think we can all agree that when dipping into the well of high school media, it’s expected that the story we selected is gonna be coy or bluntly deprecating in its tonal grounding. We enjoy them for what they are and find refuge in a few slivers of clarity, hell Me, Earl & The Dying Girl kicks ass this way, however Donnie Darko is oceans apart from its genre. Kelly wipes that veneer from existence and aims for the jugular, delving into existential angst through the disturbed gaze of an esoteric psychosis, and relays the unfiltered frustrations of youth in a bid to accept the apocalypse. I dislike the term brutal honesty, so I’ll opt for diplomatic candour, but this is why Donnie Darko has stood the test of time ahead of its contemporaries. American Pie’s not representative of the teen collective or our average formative years, Kelly’s forthright countdown is!
Due to the exerting trances of his nightmares, our titular character avoids a miraculous brush with death, causing his rapid descent into anarchic upheaval and supernatural detective work. For a film so complexly layered and abstractly conveyed, Donnie Darko is an invigorating demonstration of playing to the entertainment value in a character’s bullshit detector. You don’t have to connect the dots to revel in Kelly’s lengthily gestated bones to pick with the system which fails too many of us, striking back at their empty platitudes and avoidant attachment styles we can accidentally develop as a result of this. Donnie crashing the motivational seminar is the cathartically offbeat bliss I scout for in films!
Richard Kelly hits the right balance between literal interpretation and fantastical implication when planting his seeds of coincidental synergy and time dilated fuckery. I’ve had a fair amount of the week to ponder what I’ve seen, but while I’m only just beginning to unpack the contents from within and understand them, there’s still much in the way of Donnie Darko’s core intentions readily available for us first time viewers to lap up and obsess over. Donnie and Gretchen’s love born from dysfunction shares a far more organic chemistry than say Ricky and Jane from American Beauty, especially as Jena Malone completely won me over here. I fucking jumped outta my seat during the climax because I cared for Gretchen so much. Damn you Richard Kelly!
For what can be considered Kelly’s thoroughly darkest picture, there’s a quaint sorta irony in Donnie Darko possessing the more poetically positive ending of his filmography. So many crucial decisions culminating in an explosive fashion, and founded upon by the internalised arcs dispersed throughout. Realising the end of the world only applied to you and your personal definition of such an entity, subverting your condition, dialling back and being the change you wish had been provided for you. Saving what you’d constitute your whole world is a hell of a thing to contemplate! It’s a turn of events executed with a real prudent mirth and the screenwriting depth to support one of Richard Kelly’s rollercoasters through this nihilistic iteration of the human condition. Regardless of whether you believe Sam Bauer and Eric Strand’s editing purely saved Donnie Darko at the studio’s behest, Michael Payne’s overbearingly distorted sound design and Alec Hammond’s Abre Los Ojos - reminiscent colour palette pairs incredibly to portray the surreal hell scape of Donnie’s mind. Donnie Darko fires on all cylinders. An opulent crystal ball of demonic proportions featuring my kinda discombobulated romance.
That’s 3/3 by Richard Kelly! A new favourite director for me who I pray finds an opportunity to shoot Southland Now or whatever else comes naturally ASAP. I never thought I could want a continuation of a film so much that everyone else hates, yet here I am. Maybe I have gone mad where personal preference is concerned, but man oh man he deserved a much more illustrious career of distinguished opportunities than the hand we dealt him. At least we have a unanimous agreement on Donnie Darko’s quality though! Now excuse me while I go comb through as many explanations and interpretations as I can find…I have to decode Frank the Bunny damn it!