Donnie Darko review – pop classic of paranoia matures with age

Richard Kelly’s rereleased tale of suburban angst, starring a tremendous Jake Gyllenhaal, is a captivating triumph

In 2001, 27-year-old writer-director Richard Kelly created a pop classic of American suburban paranoia in Donnie Darko, now on rerelease – a movie with something of Back to the Future, Twin Peaks, American Beauty and of course Harvey. This film made Tears for Fears hip (kind of) and had a tremendous discovery in the young Jake Gyllenhaal, playing Donnie, a high-school kid on medication for the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. When a jet engine falls out of the sky one day on Donnie’s house, an event that would have killed Donnie had he not been sleepwalking around the local golf course, it creates an anxiety spasm that ruptures his already fragile wellbeing and he hallucinates a huge, scarily voiced rabbit that tells him to commit acts of violence. I remember being a bit reserved about Donnie Darko the first time around, perhaps because we were suffering Gen X overload in those days. Watched again now, it is captivating. Donnie Darko has a political and satirical flavour that wasn’t as strong at the time: it is set in 1988, the chastened end of Ronald Reagan’s comforting reign. There are acid references to Michael Dukakis and Dan Quayle. As for Kelly himself, he made a flawed but interesting movie with Southland Tales in 2007 but a ropey Twilight Zoney film called The Box in 2009. Since then … not much. Maybe the rereleased Donnie Darko can help revive this talented director’s career. A revisiting of Southland Tales is probably in order.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Donnie Darko at 20: the soulful student favourite comes of age
Richard Kelly’s unusual sci-fi drama made a star of Jake Gyllenhaal and introduced emo teens to a brave new world

Guy Lodge

26, Oct, 2021 @3:22 PM

Article image
Nocturnal Animals review – Tom Ford's deliciously toxic tale of revenge
Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams star in the gripping story of a broken-hearted ex-husband who wreaks vengeance decades later with his unpublished novel

Peter Bradshaw

03, Nov, 2016 @12:00 PM

Article image
How we made Donnie Darko
Jake Gyllenhaal: ‘I read the script and thought, “This is my adolescence” – although I have never spoken to rabbits’

Interviews by Phil Hoad

12, Dec, 2016 @3:15 PM

Article image
Rupture review – silly, nasty torture-porn horror
Director Steven Shainberg fails to replicate the success of Secretary with an unconvincing thriller about a single mom kidnapped by an extreme-terror cult

Peter Bradshaw

03, Nov, 2016 @10:30 PM

Article image
Criminal review – body-swap sci-fi goes horribly wrong
Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Costner swap bodies in this extremely ridiculous and unpleasantly violent science-fiction thriller

Peter Bradshaw

14, Apr, 2016 @9:30 PM

Article image
The Wailing review – Korean horror flick takes fear to the brink of an abyss
Korean director Na Hong-jin delivers a supreme evocation of evil in this intense rural-horror

Phil Hoad

24, Nov, 2016 @9:45 PM

Article image
Destiny review – Fritz Lang's amazing dream of longing and fear
Lang’s mysterious silent melodrama from 1921 is a parable about love and death that captivates with its ambition, enigma and sophistication

Peter Bradshaw

08, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Darkest Minds review – YA tropes smother teens-on-the-run drama
Amandla Stenberg and Mandy Moore star in this dystopian thriller about teenagers with superpowers attempting to escape a government internment camp

Mike McCahill

08, Aug, 2018 @8:42 AM

Article image
Nightcrawler review – Gyllenhaal hits career high
A creepy, gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopath with a scanner and a video camera in Dan Gilroy’s gripping LA drama, writes Peter Bradshaw

Peter Bradshaw

30, Oct, 2014 @10:44 PM

Article image
Predator review – Arnie's back, with a slice of classic 80s jungle alien mayhem
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a gung-ho special-forces commando up against a creepy extraterrestrial in John McTiernan’s rereleased sci-fi thriller

Peter Bradshaw

02, Nov, 2017 @12:00 PM