Florence Pugh Saves Herself In A Stylish Thriller That Falls Short Of Its High-Minded Ideas

It’s clear right from the start that something is wrong with this sunny, suburban paradise. There are enough anachronisms that you can assume the people living in the Victory Project’s ’50s-esque town are clearly not from the ’50s. The buildings regularly shake and tremble while the wives laugh it off as the “boys playing with their toys.” Pine’s serenely sinister Frank leads all the couples (because this town is almost exclusively populated with couples) in regular chants of how they’re “changing the world.” But in seeding those ominous touches of the uncanny right from the beginning, “Don’t Worry Darling” plays its hand too early. It undercuts the gradual realization on Alice’s part that her world is wrong — a misstep when you’ve got a talent like Pugh! — and it leaves the audience waiting for the inevitable reveal.

For its part, the build-up to that reveal is intriguing. Wilde litters the film with creepy imagery, shocks of violence, and split-second subliminal shots that serve to unnerve and convey just what Alice is going through. Fresh off the universal acclaim for her “Booksmart,” it’s clear that Wilde wants to show off her directorial chops, loading up the film with visual tricks and heaps of style. But the problem with keeping the audience waiting with bated breath is that these stylish flairs start to feel like empty air. At some point, the build-up to the mystery begins to feel like wheel-spinning, with long stretches of the film dedicated to other characters convincing Alice that she’s losing her mind, Alice trying to convince herself she’s not losing her mind, or Harry Styles dancing. The film weaves some interesting threads that promise to make the threat against Alice even more dangerous — mostly in relation to Pine’s antagonistic dynamic with Pugh — that it kind of just drops.

Apart from Pugh — who is alternately fragile, steely, resilient, and shattered — the rest of the talented cast feels underused. Gemma Chan, as Frank’s wife Shelley, sports the same serene and slightly sinister countenance as Pine, but the film feels like it sets up something more for her than ends up playing out. Wilde delivers a sharp, sardonic performance as Alice’s best friend Bunny, while Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant, and Timothy Simons are dutifully vapid as the Victory Project residents who make up Alice’s inner circle, though their comedy backgrounds leave them feeling slightly out of place. Perhaps the most underused is KiKi Layne’s Margaret (given little to do apart from stand on roofs and sport a blank expression), the first housewife to “lose her mind,” and whose violent spiral is what kickstarts Alice’s own breakdown.

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