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Blu-ray Review: S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale

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The Film

Diehard fans have clamored loud and long about the sacrilege of S. Darko, the direct-to-video follow-up of the 1998 cult favorite Donnie Darko that features no involvement from the original’s creator Richard Kelly, who himself hasn’t done much worthwhile since. Did Donnie Darko need a sequel? Probably not, but I’m no Darko fanatic that thinks his precious masterpiece of a film is too holy to be tampered with, so I approached this one with an open mind. It’s not a great sign that the original director isn’t involved or that it’s direct-to-video, but lest people forget, the original theatrical release of Donnie Darko was so paltry, its widest release at only 58 theaters, it was barely a step above that status itself.

Alas, S. Darko fails in nearly every way that Donnie Darko succeeded – it’s a nearly comatose teen drama that plods along excruciatingly slowly, pauses along the way to toss in familiar bits from the first film – fractured time sequences, manipulated dead, alternate universes and a Frank the Bunny head that seems to serve no other purpose than hearkening back to the iconic image of the original. Fans will mostly hate it for its supposed betrayal, and non-fans are going to be totally unenthused by the token references to the first film, leaving S. Darko a curious enterprise that probably won’t be the cult cash cow producers might have hoped for.

The S of the title is Samantha Darko, younger sister to Donnie. Daveigh Chase reprises her role from Donnie Darko, but she’s such a passive character, it’s hard to figure out why she was placed at the center of this film, other than the fact that she’s the only real connection to the first. Sam and her friend Corey (Briana Evigan) are taking a cross-country road trip to California when car troubles strand them in a podunk Utah town.

They settle in to life there, spending their time with brooding Randy (Ed Westwick), and hearing all about the local crazy, Iraq Jack (James Lafferty), who’s rumored to have a penchant for abducting little boys. Soon, a meteorite crashes in the area, creating a time fracture that sets off a series of events not too different from the ones in Donnie – the world’s ending, someone has to make a sacrifice to save the world, etc. Thing is, these plot elements don’t pay off in a nearly as satisfying way as in the original, and where Donnie felt like a film with complex plot elements that took several viewings to understand, this one just feels full of holes.

S. Darko has some decent production design going for it aside from the CG effects, which are strictly cut-rate, but the story is lackluster and the acting is often cringe-inducing, especially the variety of supporting performances.
The fanboys might be up in arms over this one, but it’s more dull than terrible, doing nothing to expand on the Darko mythology and bringing nothing new to the table that’s of any interest whatsoever.

The Blu-ray Disc

S. Darko is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. For a direct-to-video production, the visual quality is surprisingly high, although the image fares better in brighter daylight scenes than the moodier dark ones. Sharpness and clarity are strong throughout, with only trace elements of grain visible. Scenes shot against the blue, cloudless sky really stand out, with the color palette looking boldest at these moments. Overall, this is a high quality visual presentation on par with some big-budget studio films on Blu-ray.

The audio, which is presented in Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD, doesn’t perform quite as well. Dialogue- and soundtrack-heavy sequences are fine – crisp and clear – but the mix sounds overwrought when it requires the subwoofer, requiring quite a bit of volume adjustment. This inconsistency is obnoxious when it pops up, which fortunately is not too often.

Special Features

Extras include a full-length commentary track with writer Nathan Atkins and director Chris Fisher, several deleted scenes even duller than some of the actual film and a making-of featurette that has a number of cast/crew members attempting to assuage the Darko faithful, calling this film a “continuation,” not a “sequel.” I’m not sure what these people think these two words mean, but I’m not seeing a whole lot of difference. A pointless short featurette about a song some of the cast wrote about Utah is also included.

The Bottom Line

S. Darko probably could have been a whole lot worse, but it deserves no more than a rental for the curious. The Blu-ray is pretty solid visually, but this isn’t one to add to your library.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.