Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Fear, Darling” is — on its immaculately, obsessively polished floor — a movie in regards to the hazard of desires. However the film can be a type of mirror picture of itself. In the event you look carefully, it inverts, leaning into its personal creativeness and returning solely reluctantly, and late, to the tasteless calls for of economic actuality.
Even in case you have in some way prevented 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 Fifties. Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) is a loyal housewife; her husband, Jack (Harry Types), works on the “Victory Venture,” together with all the opposite males within the neighborhood below the course of the ominously smirking Frank (Chris Pine). The Chambers’ life appears idyllic; they’ve all the fabric luxuries they may 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 Venture truly is, her comforting, excellent world begins to come back aside.
Even in case you have in some way prevented 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 just tangentially all for 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 bought to have a plot and a decision. It could’t be “Eraserhead.”
But it surely certain appears like Wilde would somewhat make “Eraserhead”— should you might drape “Eraserhead” in fabulous robes and spotless retro décor. A suspense thriller is meant to construct suspense by means of 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 nearly instantly, and the narrative cycles spherical and around the wrongness with out ever fairly going anyplace, 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 situations. She’s at a celebration the place everyone seems to be having a good time, however she turns into increasingly distressed. She begs Jack to go away, however he brushes her off or received’t hearken 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 every of Douglas Sirk’s girl’s photos, 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 motion pictures, 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 nearly solely 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 gown. Erotic success and aesthetic readability are one and the identical.
There’s been plenty of gossip about stress 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 Types (as an actor, not less than) is a fairly nonentity. Pugh outclasses him so solely and so successfully that it’s tough to even have a look at him once they’re on display screen collectively. However that’s undoubtedly the purpose. The love affair between Jack and Alice fades towards irrelevance as director and lead twirl and float collectively by means of 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 believe will bear repeated viewings, however even on my first time by means of, there are a wealth of great particulars. I believe 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 kids. She is shocked nearly into paralysis. When he leaves, she appears within the mirror, then submerges. However her reflection lingers for a cut up second after she’s beneath the water, a model of herself she will’t go away behind — or which received’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 look at. It’s the faux world that the majority intensely embraces the movie’s potential. The true world appears like ghostly and desaturated reflection.
You could possibly argue that Wilde is exhibiting the seductiveness of the upper-middle-class ’50s milieu, with each gender instead and a home filled with 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 a proof of ladies’s actuality to be able to embrace ladies’s creativeness could also be too idiosyncratic for vital or business success within the quick time period. However I believe it is going to discover its viewers finally.