Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Donnie Darko:’ an impressive indie film with a relatable cast

It’s a worthy cult classic
(Courtesy of Donnie Darko official Facebook page)

Upon its 2001 release, “Donnie Darko” quickly became a cult classic. The film is known for its convoluted plot, and it also delivers a biting — yet accurate — depiction of suburban life, adolescent urges, public school and mental health. You know, the fun stuff.

Set in the year 1988, the filmcenters on the titular character Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a senior in high school, suffering from mild paranoid schizophrenia, as he navigates through relationships with teachers, friends and family. In one of his many delusions, he encounters a man in a grotesque rabbit suit, introducing himself as Frank and warning Donnie that the end of the world will come in 28 days, six hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. We then follow Donnie as he grapples with this reality, among other concerns, over the next few weeks.

With its masterful use of suspense, “Donnie Darko”discreetly deploys a series of clues which slowly play out until the entirety of its meaning becomes evident in the finale. As the pieces fall into place, a slow and creeping horror fills the viewer with uncertainty, never quite sure what will happen.

Thrilling as it can be, “Donnie Darko”also has a lighter side. Themes of coming of age are interspersed with the brutal realities of growing up. The film’s young cast partakes in plenty of drug use, bullying, gossip and vandalism, for example. As a result, many of us see the unfortunate situations we may have found ourselves in not long ago.

In order to capture this ethos, “Donnie Darko” uses many novice actors and actresses of high school age. Little did they know that several would go on to have illustrious Hollywood careers. Notably, Jerry Trainor, Seth Rogen and Ashley Tisdale play smaller speaking roles.

Though highlighted by these young talents, some of the other supporting cast members leave something to be desired — particularly Seth Rogen and his cohort, who edge dangerously close to the tropes of high school movie bullies. Thankfully, their limited screen time saves them from taking away from the piece overall. Their exaggeration is more believable (and palatable) when seen in the teachers of the fictional Middlesex High School where the film takes place. Recycled lessons, overprotective parenting and censorship are highlighted in the maniacal rants of “Ms. Kitty,” one such character.

Thanks to Gyllenhaal’s performance, a respectful depiction of the struggles of mental dysfunction takes center stage. His lack of melodrama helps show the reality of mental illness. Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore also bring a level of prestige to this indie production. Both of their characters carry an ominous presence, utilizing their star power without overshadowing the main character’s stellar performance.

On a technical level, the work maintains an unpredictability that only adds to the experience. Whether it be time lapses or incredibly long tracking shots, the impressive cinematography balances well.

The original and selected soundtrack play an instrumental (pun intended) role in emphasizing the film’s 80s setting. Including a pulsating, metronomic rhythm that builds up to the film’s explosive climax, the iconic Michael Andrews and Gary Jules cover of “Mad World” by ‘Tears for Fears,’ still a well-known song, serves as a reminder of the place in pop-culture history “Donnie Darko” made for itself.

“Donnie Darko” has help up since the film was released in 2001, and even today, it’s well worth the watch.

Jackson Walker can be reached at [email protected].

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    ChefunkOct 2, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    That’s some good writing right there!