The idea of a Donnie Darko sequel feels like blasphemy. While S. Darko is completely beneath that film in almost every regard – ideas, execution, ambition, intelligence – by using it as a foundation, you end up with a film that is far more imaginative and unusual than its cash-in shackles would have you believe.
This could have easily missed the point and been a cheapie, semi-sci fi tinged slasher movie with a man in rabbit suit. But the filmmakers, director Chris Fisher and screenwriter Nathan Atkins, are clearly fans of Richard Kelly’s original film and try their hardest to create a universe that honours Kelly’s. The images of apocalyptic Americana return, the fractured families, demented psyches and oddball periphery characters are also accounted for. Actress Daveigh Chase returns as Donnie’s sister Samantha to lend a nice touch of continuity and by setting everything in a desert town it has a backdrop and ambience separate from its predecessor. Oh and it’s also got John Hawkes in a supporting role, weirdly.
However, where Kelly was clearly savvy in sci-fi literature and intelligent genre cinema and smart enough to create a mythology from the ground up, you can’t help but feel Donnie Darko is the extent of Fisher and Atkins’ reference points. They re-hash many scenes from that film in an attempt to either homage or connect themselves to it but without Kelly’s knack for tone, location and style, they just seem like poor imitations. The time travel stuff is both messy and basic (even though it does lead to a mid-way rug-pull I didn’t seem coming but it is soon retconned so doesn’t count) and a lot of the character work suffers from sub-par performances that lack all the subtlety which made the original film so grounded and effective. Judged alone, a lot of the things here would show promise and imagination but in Donnie Darko‘s shadow they are less impressive. Basically, S. Darko is an admirable cover version of the Darko mythos or a very elaborate piece of fan fiction. A curious watch but by no means essential.