Richard Kelly's "Donnie Darko" went from being a minor indie film to a major cult hit in 2001, as audiences were fascinated by the mind-bending drama. While Kelly's follow-up, the epic "Southland Tales", was not as well-received by audiences, the daring film was still often a daring leap into the unexpected. Several years later, we suddenly get "S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale" (was the "A Donnie Darko Tale" really needed?), a direct-to-video sequel to a movie that was about the last movie I ever thought would be "sequel-ized".
This time around, the movie focuses on Donnie's sister, Samantha Darko (Daveigh Chase, returning to the role), who sets off on a road trip with her friend Corey (Briana Evigan, who I actually found somewhat enjoyable in her debut in "Step Up 2: The Streets".) The two head off on a road trip together, only to experience car trouble in the middle of Utah. Picked up by a local (Ed Westwick, of "Gossip Girl"), the two girls find themselves in a tiny town of rather oddball characters.
While Corey remains irritated by the predicament, Samantha starts having visions, including pulling a feather out of a TV. She's soon drawn to a local named Iraq Jack (James Lafferty), who believes that the world is going to end on July 4th, 1995. The performances are disappointing, as Evigan plays the generic sassy/bitter teen, while Chase is supposed to be moody and withdrawn (but it instead comes off as appearing bored.) Westwick plays with the rebel without a cause without much personality, as well. The whole movie feels distant and rather flat, which
The film was not directed or written by Richard Kelly (who reportedly didn't retain the rights) and is instead written and directed by relative unknowns Nathan Atkins (whose screenplay unleashes more than a few clunky lines of dialogue) and Chris Fisher. Rather than trying to go off on their own with the sequel, they go over a lot of the same ground, and do so without seeming like they have a firm grasp on the themes of the original film - instead, the sequel seems more like weird/surreal for the sake of being weird/surreal. In terms of the production, there are some issues, such as the effects, which are primitive (the effects of the original film - despite what I'm guessing was a much smaller budget - actually look better.)
"Donnie Darko" was a remarkable creation that director Richard Kelly carefully constructed and was presented in a mysterious, atmospheric way that hooked the interest of audiences. Although "S. Darko" has a few brief moments here-and-there that start to engage, the performances and screenplay are certainly disappointing. If there had to be a sequel (and there really didn't need to be one), Richard Kelly is probably the only one who could have gotten it right.
VIDEO: "S. Darko" is presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are fine, if unremarkable. Sharpness and detail are above-average during some of the bright, outdoor sequences, but dimly-lit interiors and some other sequences appear noticeably soft (effects sequences especially look a touch soft, which may have been intentional.) Some mild edge enhancement appeared, but the picture was otherwise free of concerns. Colors appeared intentionally subdued, but still looked accurately presented.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. While the film understandably doesn't offer a very aggressive soundtrack, there are some enjoyable instances (on a few occasions) of rear speaker use for effects and ambience. Audio quality is fine, with dialogue and effects that sounded clear and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: While I didn't care for the movie, the filmmaker commentary with director Chris Fisher, writer Nathan Atkins and cinematographer Marvin Rush actually isn't half bad, as the participants do a pretty good job of discussing the details of the production and what they were at least trying to go for with the sequel. There's also a short "making of" documentary, the "Utah Too Much" featurette and a handful of deleted scenes. The supplements are presented in SD.
Final Thoughts: "Donnie Darko" was a wild, unique and memorable success that deserves its cult status. "S. Darko" disappoints (especially in regards to casting, as well as the script), and proves that there was really no need for a sequel or "continuation" of the quite superior original. The Blu-Ray offers fine audio/video quality and a decent selection of supplements. For fans who may want to watch this sequel out of curiosity, I'd recommend a rental and certainly, lowered expectations.
The Film C-