Style without the substance

Harry Styles and Florence Pugh in Don't Worry Darling. (Photo: HBO GO)

After watching the trailer for the new American psychological thriller Don't Worry Darling, which came out two months ago, it's impossible not to think of the classic 1975 thriller The Stepford Wives due to the 1950s setting, sci-fi and suspense, and even feminist satire.

It's the second directorial effort by actress Olivia Wilde who made waves with her 2019 debut Booksmart (2019). In Don't Worry Darling, we see a big leap from a teen coming-of-age comedy to a psychological thriller. Even though the movie manages to have its own storyline that is different from The Stepford Wives, Don't Worry Darling feels half-empty and suffers from not having a strong script.

The film tells the story of a 1950s housewife Alice (Florence Pugh) who's living a perfect life with her husband Jack (Harry Styles) in a utopian experimental community. One day after witnessing a plane crash, Alice goes beyond where people are allowed and sees a mysterious building. She then begins to worry that the company her husband is working for could be hiding disturbing secrets. For a little over two hours, we watch Alice struggle to understand the mystery and come to terms with exactly what her husband does in this community they call the Victory Project, run by a guy named Frank (Chris Pine), an almost cult-like leader.

The parts I liked about Don't Worry Darling are mesmerising cinematography, beautiful 1950s set designs, vintage cars, costumes and the retro soundtrack. I also liked the compelling, almost hypnotic sound effects utilised throughout the movie. But Pugh's performance is what carries the film and deserves praise, because some of the mystery and the anxiety in this movie come from the fact that the men's jobs are top-secret and nobody talks about it. I love how curiosity always seems to work its way into situations where Alice's character becomes inquisitive of her surroundings. The range of emotion Pugh is able to convey through her eyes and facial expression is impressive.

I know a lot of people are going to watch this film because of Harry Styles, since he has a big fan base. But while I don't think his performance is bad, it doesn't impress either. I do wish he had a little bit more depth in his emotional scenes, but this is still a step forward from his role with no dialogue in Dunkirk (2017). Chris Pine is equally as impressive as Pugh in his role as the community leader Frank. But his character is criminally underutilised. Much like Alice, his character is an important piece of the concept of Victory Project and I was left disappointed and with a lot of questions surrounding his character. I wish they would have given us more of his background and the motivation as to why he started the project in the first place.

Wilde is clearly an ambitious director, and while that works for some aspects of the film, by the end, we're left feeling disappointed and with questions. So much time is spent on half-developed characters than the actual plot and every time there is some progress, it feels like the movie retreats to give attention to another aspect that just didn't matter. Wilde chooses to go with style over substance. For example, there are many moments in the film we get vignettes of weird black and white horrific, nightmarish elements which sometimes work and sometimes don't. I wish the film would have focused more on character development and relationships.

Don't Worry Darling does a good job of keeping you on the edge of your seat and gives you a good sense of paranoia and psychological elements, as well as impressive performances by Chris Pine and Florence Pugh. However, I ultimately feel the film is a little empty and a bit underwhelming.

  • Don’t Worry Darling
  • Starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles and Chris Pine
  • Directed by Olivia Wilde

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