de facto film reviews 2 stars

Actress-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde reached a rare career high after shifting gears from acting to directing her feature film, the teen comedy, Booksmart. While not lighting the box office on fire, the film quickly garnered a vast cult following, even earning an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Her sophomore film, a psychological thriller in the vein of The Stepford Wives, has become a magnet for rampant gossip with rumors of a major feud between star Florence Pugh and Wilde and the blooming relationship between Wilde and co-star Harry Styles, it seems as though all eyes have been on everything but the film at hand. The film, an ambitious studio feature aimed squarely at adults, shows endless potential before it all takes a nosedive in its final stretch.

Alice (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles) live in a small utopian community in the 1950’s where life is seemingly a dream. Alice is happy and content to stay at home to cook and clean for her husband along with all the other wives who send their husbands off to work. Jack and all the other husbands work for the Victory Project, a top secret company that is working on the production of “progressive materials”. The Victory Project, run by the mysterious and charming, Frank (Chris Pine) seems to be a front for something far more sinister and only Alice seems to be catching on.

Wilde’s film is often intoxicating with its palpable sense of mood, mixing the retro aesthetic of the 1950’s with the psychological terror of a Darren Aronofsky film, even down to the same cinematographer, Oscar-nominee Mathew Libatique. The filmmaker’s visual grandeur has become increasingly confident with a number of striking, memorable imagery. The visual craft on display is nothing less than stunning. Don’t Worry Darling is at its best when it plays with Alice’s trippy, disturbing visions and the threat of what’s really happening beneath the surface. John Powell’s score, alongside superb sound mixing, works to offset the tone and create a sense of consistent unease.

With a runtime of 123 minutes, it takes at least 80 minutes for the big reveal to begin to unfurl, leaving much to be desired. When Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman, working off a script from Carey & Shane Van Dyke, reveal their hand, all sense of logic gets tossed aside. The films core premise is rendered so incoherent with logic so thin, the slightest thought of connecting the dots will make this house of cards tumble faster than you can believe. The finale of Don’t Worry Darling attempts to wrap itself up, grasping at each plot thread and stitching them together seemingly with bubble gum and scotch tape, ending on a truly laughable beat.

What manages to glue it’s barely present pieces together is the radiant work from star Florence Pugh, commanding every frame she’s in, which is practically every shot of the film. She and co-star Harry Styles have a clear chemistry with one another, but it’s clear Styles is no match, as the megastar is outmatched and out-acted by his screen partner. Styles, who proved himself to be a fitting screen presence as part of the ensemble of Christopher Nolan’s WW2 epic Dunkirk, gives a performance that lacks heft for what’s needed from him. The ensemble is well-rounded with the best supporting turn coming from Chris Pine who revels as the communities charismatic, but conniving leader.

Don’t Worry Darling is a visually extravagant, yet undercooked and half-baked thriller. Star Florence Pugh and director Olivia Wilde’s slick visual sophistication aren’t enough to save this promising feature from driving off a cliff in its final stretch.