How does one even begin to describe Donnie Darko??
Richard Kelly's 2001 cult masterpiece certainly doesn't fit neatly into any category. Sure, it's an effective psychological horror film, but it's an equally effective blacker than black comedy, as well as a highly charged emotional drama that makes American Beauty look like American Pie. So, once again, how does one describe Donnie Darko? I think brilliant is a good start.
Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal) is an emotionally disturbed teenager from an upper-class family living in a picture perfect suburbia. Donnie's problems aren't delved into too deeply, suffice it to say he is thought to be a paranoid schizophrenic. His world, already a muddied mess of delusion and confusion, is further complicated by the arrival of his new "friend" Frank, a mysterious figure in a hideous bunny suit who guides Donnie on a path that could either lead to enlightenment or extinction, and he has just over 28 days to discover which.
I can't go into much detail with Donnie Darko, because the film's so detail oriented that I could fill up several pages with a thorough synopsis, and that would not even begin to cover the myriad characters who cross Donnie's path (or have been unwillingly drawn into his "Tangent Universe"). There's the noble teachers (Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore), the exasperated therapist (Katharine Ross), the mysterious girlfriend (Jena Malone), the shady motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze), and a rogue's gallery of bullies, fanatics, freaks, geeks, and, of course, family (including Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mary McDonnell as Donnie's long-suffering mother). More than just serving as soundboards for Donnie, each of these characters have stories of their own, making for an ensemble drama like no other. Kelly, meanwhile, guides the action with a sparse directorial style and visual aesthete that recalls vintage Lynch and Cronenberg.
Donnie Darko transcends the conventional and is, quite simply, one of the best films of the noughties. It's scary, funny, sad, sincere, and perfect from it's opening credits to the final fade out.
Fox brings Donnie Darko to Blu-ray in a solid 2.35:1 transfer that boasts vibrant colors and a nice overall level of detail, but lacks the depth and dimension of the studio's better offerings. I found some scenes exhibited a softness and occasional blur, as well as noticeable levels of digital artifacting (in darker sequences). It's not a bad transfer, but it's not up to Fox's usual standards.
The DTS HD 5.1 audio is superb, however, offering a rich and balanced soundtrack; something that isn't easy considering the fact that Donnie Darko's soundscape runs the gamut from whisper quiet to a full-on cacophony of floorboard rumbling bass and throbbing eighties soundtrack. Dialogue is spot-on, and the surround effects offer an immersive and hypnotic aural experience.
Donnie Darko comes in a two-disc, feature-laden set, offering both the theatrical and (in my opinion, highly unnecessary) Director's Cut of the film. Also included are three commentary tracks; two for the theatrical cut, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Kelly, and other cast members, and one for the Director's Cut, featuring Kelly and Kevin Smith. Disc Two offers up featurettes and other goodies carried over from various DVD releases of the film, including a very comprehensive production diary (with optional commentary), "They Made Me Do It: The Cult of Donnie Darko" featurette, and "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary". Rounding out the extras are storyboard-to-screen comparisons, and trailers for this and other Fox releases (in HD).
Donnie Darko is a cult-classic that gets better with every viewing. While I'm not a huge fan of the Director's Cut (I just find it too obvious and meandering), having both versions of the film, as well as the supplements from both releases, on one Blu-ray is a plus. While the transfer isn't quite what I had hoped for, the picture quality still bests DVD, and the audio is outstanding. Fans don't need me to tell them that this is a must-buy. Now wake up, and go get it!