Movies Without Pity
S. Darko: Fan Fiction Captured on Film

If I were a film director, I would be sticking references to other films into my movies all over the place. They would be films I admired, mostly, which means that somewhere, sometime, I would probably put in a reference to Donnie Darko, a personal favorite. Now, imagine that somebody made a movie that was entirely Donnie Darko references. Would it be a sequel to Donnie Darko? A tribute? A fan fiction? Considering that S. Darko stars Daveigh Chase as the grown-up version of her D. Darko character, Samantha from Sparkle Motion, the movie is obviously trying to be a sequel, but the only thing that separates this from fan fiction is that somebody gave the director Briana Evigan, Ed Westwick and a lot of money and let him make it into a movie.

The story itself is perhaps more convoluted than the original film's, if you can believe it. Samantha (Chase) and her friend Corey (Step Up 2's Evigan) are on a cross-country drive when their car breaks down, and they have to spend a couple of days in a small town with James Dean wannabe Randy (Gossip Girl's Westwick) and nutso Iraq War vet Justin (One Tree Hill's James Lafferty). Right away, Samantha starts sleepwalking, and Justin starts seeing a dead version of her, warning him of an impending disaster and helping him avoid a falling meteorite. Meanwhile, kids are going missing, and a fatal car accident gets time-reversed (a la the end of D. Darko) only to happen again and kill someone different. Justin builds a metal Frank the Bunny mask, because he's crazy, and eventually there's yet another go-back-in-time-and-fix-everything moment that renders the first one moot and still doesn't solve all of the town's problems, specifically the whole child-abducting thing. That last part is a little frustrating, to be honest. I didn't want a bow on everything, but I expected a Patrick Swayze-like comeuppance, this time perhaps delivered on the briefly-seen Elizabeth Berkeley.

If you break down the movie into its elements, it really is a string of D. Darko references and recreations. Something falls out of the sky and almost kills somebody. Someone is hit by a car and killed. A dead person keeps popping up and telling someone how much time is left until they die. Someone is preying on young boys. Someone burns down a building. Someone makes a rabbit mask. Someone goes and sits in a movie theater to receive guidance. A faded '90s star appears as part of their attempt to make a comeback. Unfortunately, it's not so much a formula as it is a Jackson Pollock painting, where the paint splatters resemble but don't quite match D. Darko's brilliance.

Also, the cast is completely lacking. The original had both Gyllenhaals, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Beth Grant, Noah Wyle, Seth Rogen (I know, right?) and "the Swayze." Here, Daveigh Chase is very pretty, and she spends most of the film wearing tank-tops and boxer shorts. But she's not a very good actress -- certainly not one to build a film around. I haven't seen her in Big Love, but I did see her in The Ring as Samara (Samara, Samantha -- coincidence? Probably.), and she seems to channel some of that creepiness here when playing her dead, Frank-like alter ego. Evigan is fine as her toughie friend, but Westwick plays his character like a very sleepy Dean impersonator, complete with cigarettes in his rolled-up sleeve, and whenever he's in a scene with somebody, they seem to play along with it, like it's a game: "Let's pretend we're in a 1950s teen rebellion movie."

In fact, there are many places where the film feels almost like a documentary, following fans of Donnie Darko as they gather at a very small convention in the desert to discuss the film's theories and emulate certain scenes: "Let's role play like we're following our time-tentacles!" "Look at this Roger mask I made!" "Whee, I'm dressed up like a zombie!" "Hi, I'm Elizabeth Berkeley! I'm signing photographs over there!" I guess that's what happens when you try to create a franchise (or whatever they were trying to do here) out of a movie that is completely impossible to categorize. You imitate the key notes and hope the rest holds together. The director seems to want to make his movie less-than-perfect, by leaving a frustrating, unresolved thread at the end, but that only make me think of how perfect D. Darko was, and how not-perfect S. Darko is.

Pick up S. Darko on DVD here.




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