Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Fear, Darling” is — on its immaculately, obsessively polished floor — a movie concerning the hazard of desires. However the film can also be a sort of mirror picture of itself. If you happen to look intently, it inverts, leaning into its personal creativeness and returning solely reluctantly, and late, to the tasteless calls for of economic actuality.
Even when you have one way or the other averted all publicity for the movie, the popular culture reference factors ought to already be clear.
The movie opens, with little effort to orient you, within the small desert firm city of Victory, California, in a Hollywoodized Nineteen Fifties. Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) is a loyal housewife; her husband, Jack (Harry Kinds), works on the “Victory Mission,” together with all the opposite males within the neighborhood below the route of the ominously smirking Frank (Chris Pine). The Chambers’ life appears idyllic; they’ve all the fabric luxuries they might need, numerous pleasant neighbors and a passionate romance. However Alice begins to have unusual visions and flashbacks. And when she begins to ask questions on what the Victory Mission truly is, her comforting, excellent world begins to return aside.
Even when you have one way or the other averted all publicity for the movie, the popular culture reference factors ought to already be clear. Screenwriter Katie Silberman is riffing on “The Stepford Wives” and a cornucopia of Philip Ok. Dick diversifications and rip-offs, from “Whole Recall” to “The Truman Present” to “WandaVision.” Victory, the city, is a reactionary fantasy of feminine domesticity and male careerism. Frank continually tells his underlings that their work will “change the world,” and the ladies are exhorted to assist their husbands unquestioningly in pursuit of this nebulous however admirable aim. Alice slowly realizes that her happiness and her relationship are traps because the city begins to develop odd tumors of unreality. The third act is a rush of escape; Alice lastly shakes off fantasy to grab maintain of empowerment and her true self.
That’s a reasonably acquainted narrative, and critics haven’t been particularly impressed. The film has a 36% score on Rotten Tomatoes on the time of publishing. However the film is simply tangentially focused on its clichéd narrative. The breakthrough to actuality and self-actualization are perfunctory and stuffed into the final half-hour of the film extra as obligation than consummation. This can be a Hollywood movie with big-name actors; it’s acquired to have a plot and a decision. It could actually’t be “Eraserhead.”
But it surely positive looks like Wilde would somewhat make “Eraserhead”— when you may drape “Eraserhead” in fabulous robes and spotless retro décor. A suspense thriller is meant to construct suspense via cautious ratcheting up of element and revelations. However somewhat delightfully, that’s not how “Don’t Fear, Darling” works. As an alternative, issues really feel off virtually instantly, and the narrative cycles spherical and around the wrongness with out ever fairly going wherever, just like the movie’s dream sequences of cabaret dancers organized in a circle kicking their legs up earlier than dissolving into the picture of a dilating eye.
Reasonably than a Hollywood race-through plot, this feels extra like an elegantly claustrophobic artwork film, suspended in its personal obsessions.
The wrongness is queasy and scary; Alice sees visions of violence and will get misplaced in her personal head as Jack suggests she’s insane. As in a nightmare, she retains discovering herself drawn again to the identical paranoid eventualities. She’s at a celebration the place everyone seems to be having a good time, however she turns into increasingly more distressed. She begs Jack to depart, however he brushes her off or gained’t take heed to her. Reasonably than a Hollywood race-through plot, this feels extra like an elegantly claustrophobic artwork film, suspended in its personal obsessions — or like one in all Douglas Sirk’s girl’s footage, sinking right into a frilled and enveloping domesticity.
This somewhat apparent aura of dread makes the movie really feel like a horror film, somewhat than a thriller. However as with many horror films, the eerie oddness is not only a fright; it’s an aesthetic pleasure. Wilde’s pictures are strikingly framed. The ’50s soundtrack is curated with loving care. The garments and the Sirkian saturated colours virtually drip with sensuality. The already notorious intercourse scenes are centered virtually totally on feminine pleasure. In a single, Alice lies again on a desk laden with meals, knocking one merchandise after the opposite to the ground until the desk is clear and symmetrical beneath her ruffled costume. Erotic achievement and aesthetic readability are one and the identical.
There’s been lots of gossip about rigidity between Wilde and Florence Pugh on set. If there was any, it doesn’t appear to have affected the efficiency, although. Pugh conveys blissful serenity and anguished confusion with equal conviction; her deftness justifies Wilde’s poetic anti-narrative, and vice versa. Harry Kinds (as an actor, at the very least) is a reasonably nonentity. Pugh outclasses him so totally and so successfully that it’s tough to even take a look at him once they’re on display screen collectively. However that’s positively the purpose. The love affair between Jack and Alice fades towards irrelevance as director and lead twirl and float collectively via a sunny suburb constructed like a cranium.
The film’s energy is in exploring that cranium, not in escaping it. It’s a movie that I feel will bear repeated viewings, however even on my first time via, there are a wealth of fantastic particulars. I feel my favourite is a scene during which Alice is within the bathtub after a psychological well being disaster, and Jack tells her he needs to consider having youngsters. She is surprised just about into paralysis. When he leaves, she appears to be like within the mirror, then submerges. However her reflection lingers for a break up second after she’s beneath the water, a model of herself she will be able to’t depart behind — or which gained’t let her go.
In comparison with this virtuoso play with picture and self and which means, the scenes that inform us what’s “actually” happening are mundane and drab, missing the glamour and subtlety that make the majority of the movie a lot enjoyable to observe. It’s the faux world that almost all intensely embraces the movie’s potential. The actual world looks like ghostly and desaturated reflection.
You possibly can argue that Wilde is displaying the seductiveness of the upper-middle-class ’50s milieu, with each gender as an alternative and a home full of deviled eggs and different toothsome materials issues. However the director additionally simply appears to be in love with creativity, build up textures and characters and desires for their very own sake. “Don’t Fear, Darling” is a film that airily warns you to be careful for illusions even because it revels in a movie’s energy to create a world intentionally untethered from actuality. A movie that feints towards an evidence of girls’s actuality as a way to embrace girls’s creativeness could also be too idiosyncratic for crucial or business success within the quick time period. However I feel it should discover its viewers ultimately.