Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko (15)

Easily one of the oddest in a recent string of peculiar films from the States, Donnie Darko tells of a school loner who sleepwalks, hears voices from an imaginary friend – a time-travelling rabbit called Frank – and who consistently stumps the shrink who’s trying to diagnose him as a possible schizophrenic.

One thing is certain: Donnie is no ordinary teenager. Frank the giant rabbit in an insect mask is only one part of Donnie’s strange secret life. He also sees weird transparent worms that erupt from people’s chests…

With no connection to his parents, no real friends and an edgy existence at school, Donnie would appear to be, well, peculiar. So when Frank the rabbit starts offering advice of what to do and say at school, Donnie is quick to do his bidding.

First he upsets his pious English teacher, then he secretly floods the school and buries an axe in the head of the statue of the school mascot. No one really knows what’s going on, except Donnie. And Frank, of course.

Written and directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko defies description. It is part thriller, part detective story, part teen angst drama and part psychological chiller. At its heart is an astounding performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie, and a succession of guest appearances from a string of familiar faces that include Drew (Charlie’s Angels) Barrymore, Mary (Dances with Wolves) McDonnell, Katharine (The Graduate) Ross, Noah (er) Wyle and, making a fine comeback, ‘80s hunk Patrick (Dirty Dancing) Swayze.

Indeed it is Gyllenhaal who holds the disparate threads of the film together. Mysterious, enigmatic and utterly lost, even to himself, he imbues Donnie with a sense of otherworldliness that drives the story forward, making potentially laughable moments acceptable and understandable.

Engaging, compelling, challenging and by turns original and derivative, Donnie Darko steals elements from the teen comedies of John Hughes and the likes of Harvey, starring James Stewart as the friend of the 7ft-tall invisible white rabbit of the title.

And while it inevitably draws comparisons with the work of David Lynch and the sci-fi fantasies of Steven Spielberg, it falls resolutely into a genre all of its own. It reaches parts of the psyche that remain untapped by mainstream movies, and keeps audiences gripped until the last revelatory frame.

This is small-town life given the Twilight Zone treatment. It will not be to everyone’s taste but it is certainly among the most innovative and thought-provoking films to emerge so far this year.

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