Couple Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) look into each other’s eyes. PHOTO COURTESY OF UNITEDBYPOP.COM

Shaun Lucas

You know there are some problems with a thriller/horror film when the behind the scenes action is more captivating than the final product.

On Sept. 23, 2022, “Don’t Worry, Darling,” directed by Olivia Wilde, released to theaters after months of social media drama amongst the cast. The film feeds off of the anxiety of  “too good to be true,” hinting at all times that there is a major mystery behind the seemingly perfect world on screen. The issue is that the events eventually grow stale, leaving a rather uninteresting movie for over half its runtime.

Alice, played by Florence Pugh, lives her days as a housewife in 1950s America in a perfect relationship with husband Jack, played by Harry Styles. The two reside in a utopian community founded and led by Frank, played by Chris Pine. When neighbor Margret, played by Kiki Layne, begins acting strange, Alice begins questioning the community and how Frank plays a role in her and her neighbors’ lives.

As I mentioned before, the “too good to be true” anxiety drives the film, as the audience slowly receives hints on flaws within the community and hints of a central mystery. Emphasis on “slowly,” as the pacing serves as the film’s biggest issue. While it makes sense to engage the audience through gradual hints, many scenes seemingly tell us things we already know without moving the plot along nor being entertaining.

The movie is repetitive by design: each scene where Alice is enjoying her life feels extremely similar, with Wilde creating a sense that the good times are meant to distract her from something wicked. It is a clever way to design the scenes, especially in how uniform the cinematography becomes, but this concept could be executed in less time to avoid becoming stale. The film is over two hours in length, and the runtime is definitely felt by the end of the film.

 There is certainly a disorienting feel to the entire movie, including some ways that do not feel purposeful. For example, some scenes with just casual conversations feature the camera moving in and out of focus every other second. The film overall feels visually overwhelming, and while it does add to the horror themes, the uncomfortability is draining by the end of the film.

Much of the film’s imagery felt weird for the sake of being weird rather than truly adding depth to the film. In other words, it felt as if Wilde put psychedelic scenes because the movie was supposed to be a horror/thriller rather than having a plan on why things were happening in the world.

The twist of the film feels like it peaked at its reveal, only for the film not to capitalize on its potential. Without spoiling how the mystery is solved, I feel like more time could have been spent on really exploring the implications of the reveal rather than just building up to it. It makes the third act of the movie, albeit still being the best section, not feel as satisfying as it could have been. I also left the theater thinking more and more about how the twist could not really work in real life.

Despite being mediocre overall, cinematography shined in certain moments. Shots where mirrors are used in interesting ways always stick in my mind, and the film had quite a few of them.

Siding Styles with Pugh, a masterful horror actress, certainly did not make him look phenomenal. He was very one-note through the whole film, even in moments that were supposed to be his emotional climax, along with seemingly changing between a bad American accent and just talking. In fact, I chuckled to myself in numerous moments where Styles failed to properly deliver what were to be serious lines. Pugh as Alice was honestly the only standout performance, albeit the script and setting likely did not leave much for the rest of the cast to work with.

In mentioning the script, the way the actors and setting are established felt off. Not “off” in the way a horror/thriller is meant to feel, rather that there was more planned with the concept that we do not see, almost akin to a weaker adaptation of a novel. The movie felt cheesy, even when it was supposed to be serious, because of how vapid everything is presented.

Similar to the visuals, the licensed 1950s music constantly playing became overbearing, with the original score being painfully generic. The best scenes were, ironically, ones where no music played and the audience was given a moment to just take everything in.

For such a purposefully repetitive film, “Don’t Worry Darling” is tremendously forgettable. The final act felt engaging, but Wilde fails to capitalize on the concepts and the movie ends without feeling complete. If you and some friends enjoy Pugh and need two hours of distraction, the movie is worth seeing if expectations are kept grounded.

“Don’t Worry, Darling” gets a 6 out of 10.

SPOILERS IF INTERESTED: So like, the big twist of the movie is that the 1950s America setting is a virtual simulation. Frank created it for people struggling in real life. Jack and Alice are poor in the real world, so Jack signs up to join the virtual world and he puts like these brain devices on himself and Alice. Also, if you die in the virtual world, you die in real life…for some reason, even though even making the ability to die in a utopia is stupid?

If you’ve ever seen the Truman Show, DWD follow a really similar structure, down to having a lot of the same plot beats. But the issue is while The Truman Show is amazing and clearly had a lot of thoughts on how the worldbuilding would work, DWD uses the virtual world because Wilde is lazy, but still doesn’t consider how the virtual world setting creates a lot of plot holes.

Here’s a big one that bothers me: a major part of the film is that Frank tells Alice and the rest of the community “don’t go beyond the borders of the community,” later revealed to be the only way to exit the world without dying. They’re banking on this whole virtual world working only if NONE of the inhabitants ever question the rule and explore the boundaries. Humans are, like, snoopy and curious by design, so that’s already dumb. 

But like, it’s a virtual world: why would Frank not just program the exit to the world out of sight or be unreachable? Like, Alice gets there near the beginning of the film, only to be drugged (scene is pretty unclear about this) and wake up back in her virtual home the same night.

The whole mind device setup doesn’t really make a ton of sense. So another big part of the movie is that Jack and the other men in the world forced the devices on their significant others so they would also live in the world. It’s supposed to be this commentary about how men being “nice” to women is meant as a subtle form of oppression by not allowing them to have their own autonomy (again, all the women only serve in the world by being housewives). And on its own, the commentary is fine. 

But for lunatics who think about how this stuff works too much like me, I start to wonder about a few things like this: if the device is able to make these girls forget about their real lives and reprogram their brains to only know their virtual origin stories, why would Alice suddenly be able to remember her past life? If you have a device that can completely rewire someone’s brain by scanning their eyes (?), why couldn’t there just be a few extra steps taken to factory reset the entire brain or even rewire their thoughts for everyone to outright ignore the boundaries OR remove their curiosity?

The whole “die in virtual world, die in real life” thing is, for some reason, framed as it is a flaw within a virtual world. But as revealed, while the people are thriving in the virtual world, their real bodies are just chilling in bed, not exercising nor eating. Unless the scanning device converts their entire souls to the virtual world (which, given that Jack dies in the game and then his body shuts off, so this doesn’t seem to be the case), people in the utopia would be dying left and right anyways at random. Again, unless it is implying the little eye-scanners are keeping bodies alive with a handheld device and no sustenance, the whole “perfect world” felt doomed to fail, making the “Frank said this wouldn’t happen!” scene where Jack dies even more hilarious.

There’s also this weird thing where Alice’s friend, played by Wilde herself, actually chose to put herself in the virtual world because she lost her kids in real life. But like, every scene the kids are in, the friend just glares at them, and it’s even said multiple times Alice treats them better than the friend does. But when everything is falling apart, the friend is like “They’re (the kids) still alive in this world!” But it literally seems like she put herself in this eternal hell of being reminded that her actual kids are dead, while also trying to tell Alice it’s what she wanted? Very mixed signals, and it’s very funny.

Last thing, but again, if Frank programmed this virtual world, why do the bodyguards suck so much at capturing Alice at the end? Like theoretically, these bodyguards should have been made as super humans.