Cult films only rarely demand a sequel, and they certainly never cry out to be remade. This is perhaps even more the case with a film of the standing of Donnie Darko. In simultaneously attempting something of both a remake and a sequel, S. Darko—made by Chris Fisher, whose greatest claim to fame thus far is directing episodes of Cold Case and Chuck, the latter being the most confused, least funny sitcom ever—fails spectacularly.
Eight years after the events of the first film—so, 1995—Donnie’s younger sister Sam, now 18 and cast here as a manic depressive shunned by her family, is on a road trip to California with her BFF, who looks like an extra who wandered off from the set of an MGMT video—or maybe Burning Man. Their car breaks down and they’re stuck at a motel somewhere in the middle of nowhere. For the next 90 minutes, Sam, a noctambulist like her late brother (albeit sans his penchant for waking up on golfing greens) sees apocalyptic wormholes and other visions, dead kids who were presumed missing, and, of course, Frank the Bunny, or at least an impostor-rabbit of some kind. Also, Chuck Bass turns up and does his best vacant pretty-boy James Dean/Kristen Stewart impersonation. (Seriously, Ed Westwick is in this. No, I don’t know why either.)
There are vortexes, a pædophile preacher (presumably in reference to the late Patrick Swayze’s portrayal of Jim Cunningham in the first film), and more than one countdown to the end of the world. Roberta “Grandma Death” Sparrow’s Philosophy of Time Travel appears several times, though it’s never opened, quoted or otherwise consulted. Daveigh Chase, who reprises her role as Samantha, is the only cast member to return from the original film, and she is the only on-screen link between this abortion and its original.
That the film so unashamedly apes its forebear is not its greatest crime: one of the best things about the original film is its pitch-perfect evocation of the era in which it is set. Donnie Darko feels absolutely like a film not only set in the ’80s, but also like it was made back then, via some sort of flux-capacitor rip in the time-space continuum, possibly under the supervision of reverse vampires. Though S. Darko doesn’t throw up any major continuity errors—there are no modern cell phones, for example—the creators seem to have paid almost no attention to lending the film an atmosphere that says “this is a movie set in the ’90s.” It wouldn’t have been too hard to do (throw in an Alicia Silverstone background cameo here, a Nirvana song there, etc. etc.) and it would have given their endeavour a modicum of credibility. Hell, the first film achieved its heady period feel largely through music alone, and it’s not like the ’90s didn’t have a soundtrack that could have been raided and re-applied here.
If the original film were a chest of drawers, S. Darko pulls out all the clothing, separates each pair of socks, gets the family cat to take a whiz all over everything, and tosses it all back in—taking great delight on breaking the drawers as it goes. This is a film made not only with no respect for the original material and characters it so pitifully tries to revive, but without a thought for the audience of its progenitor.