The waves of off-screen drama and gossip surrounding “Don’t Fear Darling” has put director Olivia Wilde’s second film in a clumsy spot, unable to justify the hype (it’s at finest OK) however in all probability nicely suggested to money in on it. Florence Pugh makes the strongest case for seeing the movie, however given how in-demand she is, in the event you miss this one, don’t fear.
The darkly mysterious idea represents a marked departure from Wilde’s spectacular debut with “Booksmart,” a small coming-of-age film that hit all the fitting notes. Given an opportunity to step up at school, the actor turned director has assembled a topnotch forged, however in a narrative that teases the buildup a bit too lengthy and doesn’t pay it off very neatly; certainly, the ending turns into what the film’s driving pressure speaks of endeavoring to keep away from – particularly, chaos.
Owing a religious debt to “The Stepford Wives” with its rigorously manicured picture of suburbia, there are many newer factors of comparability as nicely, such because the George Clooney-directed “Suburbicon.” There’s even a dollop of “Edward Scissorhands” within the pastel imaginative and prescient of an ideal cul de sac the place the menfolk drive single file to work whereas their wives dutifully wave goodbye.
Alice (Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Types) look like dwelling the dream, partying exhausting together with his coworkers within the Nineteen Fifties-style deliberate neighborhood the place all of them stay. The 2 are insanely sizzling for one another, virtually sickeningly so to listen to Alice’s pal Bunny (performed by Wilde) inform it.
Trying nearer, although, all of it appears slightly too good, and thus suspicious, starting with the truth that no one will clarify what precisely it’s they do working for one thing referred to as the Victory Mission. There’s additionally a cult-like devotion to the boss, Frank (Chris Pine, like Pugh, a reduce above the fabric), who will get his fees to enthusiastically embrace that they’re “altering the world.”
If the purpose is a sort of happy-talk conformity, that offers strategy to what resembles gaslighting when Alice begins to sense that one thing’s unsuitable, fueled by unusual desires, surreal pictures and the habits of a neighbor.
Based mostly on a script credited to Shane and Carey Van Dyke (Dick Van Dyke’s grandsons) together with “Booksmart’s” Katie Silberman, “Don’t Fear Darling” stumbles into the inventive entice of following the mannequin of a “The Twilight Zone” episode, simply with out the type of revelation that might elevate it into that collection’ extra memorable tier. Whereas the movie has one thing to say about gender politics and misogyny, it’s not articulated nicely sufficient to tell apart itself from any variety of different motion pictures.
Provided that, the query posed by the New York Times relating to the controversy relating to the off-screen relationships – “Will the Spiraling Publicity Hurt ‘Don’t Fear Darling’ on the Field Workplace?” – appears exactly the other way up; somewhat, the actual difficulty is whether or not that curiosity, together with the Zapruder film-like evaluation of the celebrities at the Venice Film Festival premiere, can spur curiosity in an in any other case nondescript film? (The movie is being launched by Warner Bros., like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Virtually talking, regardless of the warmth surrounding Types as he steps up his performing profession, the first draw ought to be Pugh, whose rising profile – with an Oscar nomination for “Little Ladies,” “Black Widow” and the upcoming “Dune” – will see her in one other film, “Surprise,” come November.
After Wilde’s spectacular debut, there’s invariably anticipation to see if a filmmaker can pull off one other success. By that measure “Don’t Fear Darling” feels extra like a modest setback than a serious disappointment, however in the end, it’s exhausting to name this undertaking as a victory.
“Don’t Fear Darling” premieres in US theaters on September 23. It’s rated R. The movie is distributed by Warner Bros. Studios, which like CNN is a part of Warner Bros. Discovery.