Donnie Darko

This 2001 film wears its cult sensibilities on its sleeve

 Donnie Darko, showing at the River Oaks Theatre today, may be the first cult film that was actually meant to be a cult film. It seems modeled after its predecessors in the pseudo-genre, which found diehard audiences only after sinking at the box office the first time around.

Donnie Darko, released in 2001 on the heels of The Blair Witch Project’s runaway success, was intentionally released on a small scale (58 screens on opening weekend) with a cast that featured a pre-Broke Back Mountain Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore and former Houstonian Patrick Swayze. Donnie included many of the norms of cult films. A troubled teenage protagonist? Check. An icon-like weird image? Yes: A man in a rabbit suit delivers prophecies to the hero in a dream sequence. A non-linear plot? The thing revolves around loose theories of how to affect the course of time. Strange motifs? Look out for repetitions of the number eight. Unsettling use of a vintage song? “Mad World” will never sound the same again. Suburban America portrayed as dark and two-faced? Well, of course.

So it’s a little formulaic (“like a comic book rendition of a David Lynch film,” says Web site SLICEDWire), but for those on the hunt for startling weirdness at the theater or video store, Donnie Darko delivers. 11:55 p.m. today and tomorrow. 2009 West Gray. For tickets and information, call 713-866-8881 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com. $8.25.
Fri., Jan. 4, 11:55 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 5, 11:55 p.m., 2008

 
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