Don’t Worry Darling, with its mystery, colorful visuals, and a grounded performance by Pugh, is an entertaining enough ride that will engage viewers.
Olivia Wilde’s sophomore outing as a director has gotten a lot of attention ahead of its release, primarily due to the film’s controversy surrounding an allegedly icy behind-the-scenes relationship between Wilde and the film’s star, Florence Pugh. However, Don’t Worry Darling, with its mystery, colorful visuals, and a grounded performance by Pugh, is an entertaining enough ride that will engage viewers, even if it isn’t as deep or as critical as it perhaps aims to be. The film is a trippy psychological thriller that is light on the latter but certainly has something to say about gaslighting, in particular.
The film begins with a dinner party. Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles) are contentedly drunk and having the time of their lives with their friends, including next door neighbor Bunny (Olivia Wilde) and her husband Dean (Nick Kroll). Alice, who lives in an enclosed, idealized community, spends her days cleaning, cooking, shopping, and socializing with her fellow housewives while their husbands go to work on what they only know as the “Victory Project,” led by the charismatic Frank (Chris Pine). After Margaret (KiKi Layne), a member of the Victory community, which eerily resembles the 1950s idea of what a perfect home, neighborhood, and family life should look like, begins to question their lives, Alice starts having visions. Alice comes to the conclusion that something more sinister is happening and she starts digging for answers.
Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t particularly say anything the audience hasn’t heard before, but it does offer critiques regarding the way a society views a woman’s place in the world, bodily autonomy, and how men (and sometimes even women) work to uphold systemic power structures and control. The film aims to be unsettling — and it is, especially thanks to Pugh’s performance as a discombobulated Alice. At the start, Alice seems content, perfectly oblivious to everything and happy to acquiesce to everything in her life without question. Pugh plays the dutiful, devoted wife role well, but as things begin to escalate and Alice grows more suspicious and detached from the stereotypical role she’s in, Pugh brings viewers into Alice’s feelings of unease and the desperation to regain some semblance of control over her own life. There is an especially delicious stand-off between Alice and Frank that will have audiences on edge because of Pugh and Chris Pine’s performances.
Wilde’s film will have viewers recalling The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show, and even The Matrix and Inception in parts of its execution. To be sure, there are plenty of similarities between the first two films especially. It’s not like Don’t Worry Darling is aiming to be something wildly different, but the film floats along thanks to a strong central performance by Pugh, the eeriness surrounding its mystery, and the abundance of style filling every scene. To that end, the film’s production design and set decoration are impeccable, as is the costume design by Arianne Phillips. The film is light on thrills, but there is a creepy, almost supernatural, factor that floods the story, leaving audiences waiting with bated breath to see what will come of Alice’s pushing and prodding beyond her simple, idyllic life. While the ending is ultimately predictable, it’s the journey and chilling psychological moments — shown largely through Alice’s perspective — that maintain the film’s entertainment value. It’s also visually captivating, thanks to the cinematography by Matthew Libatique, bright and crisp in places and muted and gray in others.
The screenplay, from Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, isn’t as scathing or as deep as it could have been, and it keeps the rest of the characters, including Harry Styles’ Jack, at arm’s length. There are developments that would have been more effective had they been shown, like the friendship between Alice and Margaret before the latter begins to question what’s going on. In that regard, Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t develop the supporting characters enough, more focused on Alice’s discomfort and paranoia to drive both the plot and suspense.
Yet despite its shortcomings and limited scope in terms of what it’s trying to say, there is something magnetic and almost hypnotic about Don’t Worry Darling. The film still has a solid message overall, and it certainly has a lot of flair, its narrative suspenseful and enjoyable, even while being predictable. With Pugh’s powerhouse performance elevating the script and an engaging central mystery to keep the plot moving, the film has enough going for it to make it a pleasing watch.
Don’t Worry Darling released in theaters nationwide on September 23. The film is 122 minutes long and is rated R for sexuality, violent content and language.