When I first watched The Sixth Sense, a horror thriller released in 1999, the twist at the end of the film was shocking to me. It was also the only logical explanation for the inexplicable moments throughout the film. Generally, the same should be said for all quality thrillers, in which the built up action earns the unearthing twist at the end. Walking out of a near-empty theater last week, I would say Don’t Worry Darling failed to check that box—or any boxes, really—for a worthwhile, thought-provoking thriller.
Directed by Olivia Wilde, Don’t Worry Darling follows protagonist Alice, portrayed by Florence Pugh, as she recognizes that the “Victory Project,” a 1960s-esque and seemingly-utopian community she lives in, has a sinister undercurrent. Every day, the routine for Alice is the same: cooking up breakfast for her husband, Jack, portrayed by Harry Styles; waving him goodbye as he drives to a mysterious job in the desert; cleaning the house; cooking more (this time, dinner!); greeting her returning husband, home at last, with a glass of wine and sex. The same applies for all other women in the neighborhood. Supposedly, everybody is happy. But after Alice witnesses the suicide of her neighbor Margaret, portayed by Kiki Layne, she realizes that life in the isolated Victory Project is perhaps not as perfect as she is led to believe.
In terms of its exterior, Don’t Worry Darling is strengthened by a beautiful set and acting firepower from Florence Pugh, especially when she is paired with Frank (Chris Pine) as the film’s chilling main antagonist. Their scenes together—albeit limited in number—are brimming with heart-pounding tension. The rest of the supporting actors, on the other hand, lack the talent to come close to challenging Pugh in a scene. Styles has scenes where the camera is focused on his face for minutes at a time, and he simply does not possess the skill to convey any emotion at all. Wilde, playing Bunny, Pugh’s close friend, has one moment in particular where she shines in conflict with Alice, but her acting is too inconsistent to pull off any significant character depth.
The film focuses on the overarching themes of patriarchy, bodily autonomy, and white feminism—all of which are eerily relevant in our society—but ends up with a tangled mess of open-ended plot lines. For one, Alice dismisses Margaret, a Black woman, when she tries to explain to Alice that the Victory Project is one big lie of domestic bliss, a set up for further social commentary on the erasure of Black women in the media. After that, however, the film rolls on without expanding at all on the subject, as if the intention were to meet a quota and move on. Not to mention, if the Victory Project is set in the 1960s, neglecting to address racism on a systemic level is just another glaringly obvious oversight. So many of the themes and their associated plot lines are left unexplored by the end of the film.
Even Wilde’s intended feminist themes collapse in on themselves. Prior to the release of the movie, she told audiences that she wanted them to “realize how rarely they see female hunger, and specifically this type of female pleasure” as they watched Don’t Worry Darling. Except that Alice is effectively held hostage by Jack and cannot truly give consent, so the “female pleasure” promised by Wilde is sexual assault. What could possibly be empowering about that? Moreover, if Wilde sought to highlight gender roles in traditional marriages, the domestic bliss of the Victory Project should have been met with more resistance from the women. It is a major contradiction of recurring feminist themes that Wilde chose to have all of the captive women in the Victory Project, save for Alice and Margaret, joyfully buy into a male-centered utopia. When your primary message does not line up with the contents of the film, what is the point of showing the movie at all?
After spending most of the movie building up suspense, the twist at the end is revealed in fast-paced exposition. Characters suddenly disclose information about themselves and the Victory Project with zero backing in the earlier parts of the film. It felt like the writers began to brainstorm the conclusion while actively filming. In a quality thriller, the audience should require little explicit exposition for the twist to make sense. The ending never includes explanations for scenes about earthquakes, hallucinations of creepy dancers, and malfunctioning mirrors that dawn on you and make you think, ‘Wow, everything is falling into place.’ If you are looking for a film with beautiful cinematography, a handful of strong actors, and two hours of relative entertainment, Don’t Worry Darling is a perfect choice. But with unexplored themes, a muddled message about womanhood, and a conclusion that leaves you with more plot holes than explanations, you should not look forward to a sturdy or meaningful story here.