Every star in the world had to start somewhere, be it in some low-budget horror movie like Jennifer Aniston (Leprachaun) or some tiny indie movie that no one’s ever really heard of outside of Sundance circles like this film, with Jake Gyllenhaal. “Donnie Darko” was something I initially mistook for a horror movie the first I rented it at my local video store. Boy was I wrong! It became an underground hit that launched Gyllenhaal’s career and earned a powerful cult following that still stands strong to this very day. Suffice to say, Donnie Darko is far more than just a movie about creepy faced rabbits and time travel, and hopefully this review will help explain just how it became such a silent hit.
The titular teen Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a lonely, hyper intelligent weirdo who has no friends except for a strange, humanoid rabbit with a creepy face named Frank. After receiving some cryptic messages and visions, Donnie meets a girl by the name of Gretchen (Jena Malone) who starts to make his messed up life a little bit better. But as his psychosis grows, and visions of Frank cause increasing frictions with his family and school life, Donnie begins to doubt what’s real and what’s an illusion caused by his increasingly tenuous mental state.
The story then centres around the dysfunctional teen as he struggles to find a kindred spirit in a world warped by time travel and talking bunnies. The writing feels so rich and deep; swelling with relatable personal dramas that just make it impossible not to become attached or intrigued by these characters as they struggles through their dark daily lives.
Donnie Darko is full of talented actors; some before they became big, and others more well-known who give commendable top-notch performances: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, and the late great Patrick Swayze. I can hardly think of a single area where this film fumbles. Everything from the music, the writing, and the performances to the camerawork just spills out with excellence without missing a beat. The visuals, especially the ones with Frank are hauntingly beautiful, and stick with you long after the credits have rolled. It’s not hard at all to see why so many people admire this movie and have turned it into a cult classic, and of course, launched Jake and Maggie’s careers.
I think the only slight criticism I have is towards the somewhat poor quality of some of the special effects (mostly the “time water streams”). The director clearly put all of his money everywhere else in the film BUT towards the special effects. They look like the kind of effects you’d see in the same kind of direct-to-DVD low-budget horror movie I mistakenly assumed “Donnie Darko” was when I first saw the creepy rabbit skull mask box cover. It’s a minor gripe and I do agree everyone cast in the film deserved that money far more than the effects did; considering how minimal they are utilized after all.
Overall, “Donnie Darko” is a bizarre breed of brilliant movie-making and science fiction sustenance that has withstood the test of time and proven to be a worthy and well-made cult classic for audiences to dissect and enjoy. This movie will cause you to think, laugh, cry, become shocked, become emotionally involved and it does it with a beautiful sense of style and finesse…definitely not words I’d think to associate with a movie about a creepy talking bunny man.
I give “Donnie Darko” 3 and ½ stars out of 4.