Review: Don’t Worry Darling

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This article contains spoilers.

Catchy jazz scores and brilliant retro prints introduce us to the fifties-set Don’t Worry Darling. The psychological thriller offers a paradisal rendition of the fifties era: like clockwork, every morning mechanical doll women wave to their breadwinner husbands as the pastel Cadillac cavalry leaves for work in the mysterious sector of developing “progressive materials”. Meanwhile, compliant wives stay home to prepare for their return, happily undertaking domestic chores whilst still finding time to shop, attend ballet classes, and gossip. The Victory Project, advertising an always-sunny, hospitable, All-American dream, is perfectly fertile to the fracturing which will endanger its perfection.

An inviting soundscape of bouncy jazz and soul music characterises the inhabitants’ companionable dinner parties and debauchery, whilst the perpetual whirr of crickets outside reminds us of the town’s barrenness. Music is employed to pre-empt moments of terror, where it distorts jarringly or is replaced with a thrumming buzzing, breathing rhythm — similar to the cultish chanting in Midsommar, for those familiar with the Florence Pugh cineverse. 

Bright, gingham prints curate the covetable wardrobes of Alice and the other wives

Bright, gingham prints curate the covetable wardrobes of Alice and the other wives. Costume designer Arianne Phillips stated, “I wanted the audience to be seduced by Victory as well.” One of the most impressive aspects of the film, the nostalgic setting of the Victory Project sees a comeback in cinched waistlines, swing dresses, and bowling shirts. Philips’ attention to detail successfully creates flattering looks both in keeping with vintage style and attractive to a modern audience. Whilst the soundtrack and costume choices are conducive to the film’s glamour and charm, Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack’s (Harry Styles) convincing chemistry is the cinematic centrepiece. Their relationship charges the film, heightens the danger, and ensures the audience’s envy at missing out on such a world.

The Truman Show-esque vein of the film becomes apparent as cracks and inconsistencies begin to puncture the utopic idyll, prompting Alice’s feelings of dislocation. The cunning shot of Sylvia Plath on the nightstand compounds some of the film’s themes — Plath’s The Bell Jar approaches women’s mental health in the 1950s, similarly featuring brutal shock treatment for psychological illnesses. Alice’s increasingly stifling existence in this ostensible suburban utopia recalls Esther’s experience of entrapping mental illness, “stewing in my own sour air.” Alice’s violent capture by red-suited Victory officials also recalls Blanche’s removal to a mental asylum in A Streetcar Named Desire, whilst Jack and Stella look on tearfully but passively. 

Once the film discharges its twist, we begin to understand the ethos of the Victory Project, disturbing for its backwards ideology which is unpalatable to twentieth-century ideals. In this simulation that heralds male progress, Jack can rectify Alice’s womanly failures in her previous life, returning home from work too late and tired for affection or cooking dinner, where in the Victory Project these are her only purposes. The titular phrase “Don’t Worry Darling” waves away women’s interference and independence under the pretence of men selflessly securing universal happiness and financial security. The virtual, stationary kidnapping of the Victory Project is a cover-all solution for individuals such as Jack, hopeless and dejected at his purposelessness, and seems like a fantastical elaboration on incel culture today. Disturbingly, it seems to suggest some women are selected at random to join the project, as Jack is asked in his assessment if he has an existing relationship with Alice. There are some plot holes, such as how Frank’s (Chris Pine) wife Shelley (Gemma Chan) so vehemently defends her husband to Alice, only to later stab him and presumably follow suit in her escape. This suggests she had astonishingly little knowledge of the scheme of which her husband is founder. For a site so high-security, Alice reaches Victory headquarters with surprising ease on a detour from town in ballet flats.

Relying on this discordance to build unease

The inability to escape the simulation speaks to more than one Black Mirror episode as well as several other cinematic productions, relating an exponential interest in showing technology’s darker capabilities in film. Paired with an unhealthy glorification of the past and regressive gender ideals, Don’t Worry Darling is a disturbing science fiction. Whilst we may anticipate its outcome, Wilde still generates palpable terror through fleeting scenes of horror and distorted faces incongruous to the picket-fenced suburbia, relying on this discordance to build unease. Alice finds herself in a bewildering, oppressive Wonderland full of anomalies and inconsistencies, haunted by hallucinations as the edges of reality begin to fray and come loose.

As we know from Ari Aster’s legacy, Pugh is more than capable of playing the woman trapped in an environment with increasingly disconcerting happenings: she is the perfect candidate for Alice and delivers the role with conviction and flair. At times, Styles’ performance fails to match the emotional poignancy of the scene and the tension Pugh so successfully builds fizzles out. Nonetheless, the film suffers little by this in the long run; on point musical ensembles, exquisite costumes, and clever cinematography all make for a truly exciting and immersive thriller.

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