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Don’t Worry Darling

  • Film
  • 2 out of 5 stars
Don’t Worry Darling?
Foto: Cortesía Warner Bros. Pictures
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Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

A fired up Florence Pugh saves this stylish but inert horror-thriller from disaster

An initially heady cocktail of The Stepford Wives, Gaslight and Repulsion that’s garnished with a Mad Men aesthetic and a Philip K Dick-esque twist, Olivia Wilde’s stylishly rendered but muddled domestic horror is saved by another showstopping performance from Florence Pugh. You can practically feel her straining to hold together its hollow-feeling world – a 1950s corporate utopia called Victory Town in the American desert – as a housewife whose idyllic life slowly curdles into something horrifying.

And despite Victory’s manicured lawns, the sleek modernist houses, the cheery martini-proferring neighbours and having dapper Brit Harry Styles for a husband, those horrors soon come thick and fast for Pugh’s hopeful young wife, Alice. Most of them seem to emanate from the slickly sinister CEO of the mysterious Victory Project (Chris Pine), the employer of Alice’s hubbie and the town’s other men. He’s blessed with a televangelist’s ability to connect with his community – and an equal array of homilies about progress, innovation and family to keep his flock galvanised.

Suspecting some darker secrets at work and experiencing visions and nightmares, Alice goes off grid to dig deeper only to experience an unravelling that neatly mirrors Pugh’s descent into sunlit psychosis in Midsommar. Few actresses this side of Elisabeth Moss are this good at seeming to gain strength from coming apart at the seams.

But Don’t Worry Darling never quite decides what we’re meant to be looking at: is it a critique of the dark side of the American dream; an allegory about controlling men; or perhaps even an object lesson in how a kind of fascism can flourish in a self-policing and cultish community? There’s also a slightly problematic nod to psychiatric care as a tool of control. That’s a lot of themes butting into one another and the on-the-nose visual metaphors (walls literally closing in, shattered mirrors) don’t much help to make sense of them. 

The curiously flavourless Harry Styles struggles to match Florence Pugh for intensity

One thing it’s definitely not is a film about marriage. Burdened with an underwritten part, the curiously flavourless Styles struggles to match Pugh for intensity as husband and wife fly at each other – one’s ambition at risk from the other’s intuition – and the couple’s chemistry fizzles out. It’s a crucial flaw in a film that needs to sell us at least one thing that feels real in its world of artifice.

As Booksmart proved in spades, Wilde has chops as director and there’s fun to be had in Don’t Worry Darling’s vivid colour palette and heady period detail. But just how much fun depends on your reaction to a twist that’s awkwardly stitched into the story in two short third-act bursts. I quite enjoyed it for its loopy audacity, even if its mechanics don’t stand much scrutiny. You could probably say the same thing about the film.

Don’t Worry Darling premiered at the Venice FIlm Festival. It’s out worldwide Sep 23.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Olivia Wilde
  • Screenwriter:Katie Silberman, Shane Van Dyke, Carey Van Dyke
  • Cast:
    • Harry Styles
    • Olivia Wilde
    • Florence Pugh
    • Nick Kroll
    • Gemma Chan
    • Timothy Simons
    • Kiki Layne
    • Chris Pine
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