Review: ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ is an ironic abuser of imagery

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Before reading this, be warned that you’ll see the word “ironic” a lot. Several aspects of this controversial movie made me audibly laugh in the theater and talk to myself out loud, half asleep on my drive home.

If you’ve missed the pre-release drama, “Don’t Worry Darling” is director Olivia Wilde’s first soiree into the thriller genre. After her success with “Booksmart” in 2019, the actor and director went a completely new route.

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

The movie – written by Katie Silberman – centers around Alice (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles), who live in a seemingly idyllic oasis reserved for families with patriarchs working on the Victory Project, a top-secret operation that’s “changing the world.” Alice suspects that her perfect life with the perfect husband and friends may not be all it’s cracked up to be (you’ll get that pun if you decide to watch).

Within the first 10 minutes, after almost no real exposition, Alice’s journey of discovery is monotonous. This is potentially a stylistic choice; a woman whose only job is maintaining appearances and controlling herself becomes bored with the monotony. But why should she take her boredom out on the viewers?

When Alice discovers that certain aspects of her life are fake, her discovery that problems in the community are swept under the rug are almost montage-like, leaving no breathing room for the audience to feel suspense whatsoever. This is ironic, given that the movie is supposed to be a thriller and has a runtime of 2 hours and 3 minutes. What could have been a slow-burn discovery, putting tension in viewers’ shoulders, somehow went too fast and too long.

The discoveries are cut with imagery meant to build up to the main twist at the end – jarring imagery like an eye dilating or clownish synchronized swimmers out of water. Flashes of black and white or Alice suffocating are intercut with the mundane tasks she finds herself doing and questioning. The imagery, as well as the sound effects of women groaning, is intended to make viewers grip the arms of their chairs.

The same imagery and sounds repeat whenever viewers are meant to understand that Alice isn’t quite feeling like herself. The handholding in post-production leaves – ironically – little room for viewers to think for themselves in a film about women thinking for themselves. Instead of any real apprehension, the movie relies heavily on these sequences like jump scares in a horror movie. And like jump scares, this reliance evokes the same word: cheap.

Cheap reliance is a theme throughout the movie. Substantial characters like Margaret (Kiki Layne), Frank (Chris Pine) and Shelley (Gemma Chan), aren’t given the screen time they deserve and are mainly used as cheap plot devices.

Margaret, the main catalyst for Alice’s awakening, is quickly removed from the movie after little interaction with our protagonist. Instead of showing us that Margaret means anything to Alice or showing us more than two outbursts from Margaret, other characters literally spell it out for viewers. The wives gossip about Margaret’s “accident” shortly before her removal, and Alice genuinely says “she was my friend” to her husband after getting upset.

Frank, the Victory Project’s enigmatic leader, and Shelley, his wife, also don’t appear much. When they do, it’s either to stare at Alice, gaslight her or create an unnecessary and dropped plotline of sexual tension between Alice and the couple. Frank and Shelley only show up twice – for only a few seconds – in the final scene, despite being the main antagonists. Shelley in particular is robbed in these final moments; she has an unearned twist of her own with no explanation or foreshadowing, as she simply wasn’t on screen enough.

Shelley’s twist is not the only one that underwhelmed. The movie’s main twist – if you could even call it that – was the opposite of Shelley’s, however. As mentioned before, within the first few minutes we start to see the images flash across the screen showing Alice’s glitches in the Matrix, so to speak. Both through Wilde’s insistence that this movie is her take on “The Matrix” and “The Stepford Wives,” it’s upsetting that the twist is so similar. With imagery like zoetropes and eyes dilating showing within the first 15 minutes, viewers are immediately clued in on an obvious twist.

“Don’t Worry Darling” is disappointing. The heavy reliance on aesthetics and lack of substantive plot or characters undermine the supposed feminist message this film is trying to portray. Despite saying women are more than just an appearance to control, that women have substance and that women think, the movie exclusively uses appearances to handhold viewers throughout a lifeless plot filled with lifeless characters.

The plot and characters aren’t the only things that are maintained by appearances. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the dozens of articles released each day about some new juicy tidbit surrounding this film. First, it was the cast release: Harry Styles! Then it was Pugh not promoting the movie, Wilde’s divorce papers being delivered during a speech she gave at CinemaCon, and Pine looking like he wanted to die during all of the press junkets.

The only reason this movie is succeeding at the box office is because it relies on appearances. Styles’ appearance will bring in many fans; hopefully, ones that can admit his pronunciation of the word “opportunity” is hilarious and ruined a serious scene. Without the exciting news of drama on set or a flashy cast, the movie wouldn’t have been as widely talked about as it is currently.

It’s just a shame that Florence “I just use Instagram to show off my baking” Pugh and Chris “Still uses a flip phone” Pine had to get wrapped up in a movie so obsessed with image. Hopefully, we get another (actually) feminist (actual) thriller from the pair soon, as the only real chemistry in the movie is the one scene the two share alone.

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Alexandria Darmody (she/they) is the editor-in-chief of the Journal, and a fifth-year journalism major and FTVP minor. She enjoys digital art, photography and Gillian Flynn. In her free time, she makes collages from old magazines and collects stickers to decorate surfaces. She's also a writer for the Webster-Kirkwood Times and involved on the university's speech and debate team.