Review: ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ trips over well-worn sci-fi and horror tropes

Harry Styles and Florence Pugh in Don’t Worry Darling (New Line Cinema)

Olivia Wilde’s sophomore directorial effort “Don’t Worry Darling” is a gorgeous-looking film with a great deal of style and panache, but its screenplay by Katie Silberman is a feckless retread of ideas that were more effectively executed by better films.

It’s a shame, too, because the movie looks splendid with its retro, mid-century stylings and candy-colored palette set before an arid Western backdrop. All the women are beautifully or sexily dressed to see off their equally resplendent husbands to their work with their lunches and a peck on the cheek.

As bread-winners zoom off from their perfectly manicured cul-de-sacs in their classic automobiles of all makes and colors, their wives wave goodbye before spending their days completing housework, gossiping with the neighbors, sipping cocktails, or taking odd dance classes.

Yes, the veneer is just too shiny to be real, and before long our heroine Alice (Florence Pugh) begins to suspect her idyllic June Cleaver lifestyle in the “The Victory Project,” replete with her oh so dreamy husband Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) is just too good to be true.

Jack’s boss the handsome but creepy Frank (Chris Pine) gives Alice bad vibes early on as she begins to wonder just what type of Wonderland she’s trapped in.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s work is clearly the star of the film along with the production design team. It’s just too bad the meat of the film is tasteless as sawdust and flimsy as balsa wood.

That leaves Pugh, Pine, Styles, and Wilde, who also plays Alice’s neighbor and best friend Bunny, hamstrung with very little to do beyond looking pretty during the movie’s setup. It’s not that they don’t try and aren’t appealing. The script just fails them.

New in Local Theaters

Don’t Worry Darling (R) 2 hr. 3 min. (trailer)
AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne, Malco Pinnacle Point, Skylight

Moonage Daydream (PG-13) 2 hr. 14 min. (trailer)
Malco Razorback

Railway Children Return PG 1 hr. 38 min. (trailer)
Malco Razorback, Malco Towne

Wilde is a promising director, and she does create some interest despite the derivative nature of the script. However, the movie literally goes nowhere after the setup, and unfortunately the trailers gave away everything that is remotely interesting about the movie’s reveal which borrows heavily in theme and story from better TV shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Lost,” or films like “The Stepford Wives,” “Get Out,” and “The Matrix.”

I honestly hesitate to mention those productions because it might mislead their fans to seek this movie out. By all means don’t. The film, which concludes with an overused 1970s-ish trope that is as unfulfilling today as it might have been shocking 50 years ago, is not worth your effort to go to the theater.

(R) 2 hr. 3 min.
Grade: D

Classic Corner – Avatar

Sigourney Weaver in Avatar (Twentieth Century Fox)

In anticipation of December’s debut of James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the director’s original 2009 ground-breaking blockbuster is back in theaters this week.

What better way to market your new sequel than to book the original in theaters again?

The 3D spectacular, which is Hollywood’s highest-grossing film of all time, re-opens today at the AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, and Malco Town theaters. The film was shown in 3D in Northwest Arkansas theaters during its original run, but the Malco Razorback’s IMAX screen had not yet been added.

While opinions vary on the 3D and IMAX format, Cameron’s opus, which was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, was crafted to be presented in 3D and the IMAX format rather than transferred after the fact. The difference is stunning.

Some have criticized the computer-animated film as “Dances With Wolves” in space, and while the comparison is apt from a story standpoint, the movie is visually stunning and arresting in an entirely different way. It is the grandest achievement in 3D animation ever made, and while the story is melodramatic, it’s not boring.

If you’ve not seen the film on the IMAX in 3D, your opportunity is now. It is a grand movie-going experience and a great way to refresh your memory of Cameron’s Na’Vi world before the new film opens in time for Christmas.


Dominique Dunne, JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, and Oliver Robins in Poltergeist (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Returning to theaters just in time to usher in the Halloween season and to celebrate its 40th anniversary is “Poltergeist,” a suburban ghost story developed, produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg and directed —at least on record — by Tobe Hooper.

The movie is playing at the Malco Razorback at 4 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday in conjunction with Fathom Events.

Even 40 years later, it remains debatable whether Hooper was the director, co-director or just a proxy for Spielberg, who contractually couldn’t “direct” the film for MGM while working on “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” for Universal Studios. Not coincidentally, “Poltergeist” and “E.T.” opened a week apart in the summer of 1982.

Hooper was the director and co-writer for the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) as well as the minor horror hit “Funhouse” (1981), but Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over the “Poltergeist.” He was reportedly on set for all but three days of the production, and more than a few of the craftsman who worked behind the camera said Hooper always deferred to Spielberg when questions arose.

While Spielberg has never claimed that he directed the movie, so much talk and press to that effect was in the air at the time of the film’s release that he did issue a statement to the “Hollywood Reporter” crediting Hooper as the director, but the effort came off with a Monty Python-like “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”

The movie has the feel of a Spielberg movie. It almost seems like it and “E.T.” could have been set in the same same subdivision if not neighborhood. The movie isn’t as wickedly horrific as say “The Exorcist” (1973) or even “The Amityville Horror,” (1978), but it isn’t that far off. The tree attack, and the clown and swimming pool scenes are definitely scary and effective. All three are every-day and mundane in the daylight, but certainly chilling in the suburban darkness.

Spielberg had an odd fixations for TVs and closets during this period of his career. Both are impactful in this movie and “E.T.”

Of course the movie’s tag line of “They’re here” was an excellent piece of writing both for the film and its marketing, and little Carol Ann’s (Heather O’Rourke) quizzical delivery was just chillingly perfect.

“Poltergeist,” which originally was given an “R” before MPAA backed down after Spielberg appealed, may not be quite as chilling today as it was upon its release, but it still holds up surprisingly well four decades later.