Some films get so much acclaim in so short a time that it becomes sort of unhip to love them. Take American Beauty, for example: I don't think people who adored it when it came out (like me) changed their minds, I think they just sort of burned out on it. Similarly, Donnie Darko's "cult classic" status has been drilled into our heads to such an extent that to place it among one's favorite films seems like a faux pas. Call it overexposure.
But, uh: I love Donnie Darko. I recently got a chance to see the Director's Cut on the big screen: my fourth or fifth viewing of the movie, though the first of the Director's Cut and the first time on film. I do think the longer version gets a bit hung up on the arcane details of "The Philosophy of Time Travel," to its detriment. But even the slightly more self-indulgent cut is extraordinary, a wonderfully sad allegory about the teenage desire to escape -- no, transcend -- the phoniness, banality and evil of the everyday world. (In this sense, it's like a more earnest Catcher in the Rye.) Donnie Darko is also Exhibit A for why the Gyllenhaals are a big deal.
In any case, now we get S. Darko, direct to DVD and with no involvement from Richard Kelly. Daveigh Chase reprises her role as Samatha Darko, who is plagued by apocalyptic visions while on a road trip with her best friend. (There are a few more plot details here.) Presumably, then, the movie continues and expands on the first film's science-fiction-y time travel mythology.
Here's the problem: Nobody cares about Donnie Darko's time travel mythology. Well, that might not be fair. I don't care about its time travel mythology. The movie's not about time travel, or God, or Frank the bunny. That stuff is essentially a red herring, an oblique metaphor for the fact that Donnie's not an ordinary teenager, content to live an ordinary, oblivious high school existence. It's the character that's interesting -- his sadness, his desperation, and finally his gift to the few people he loves.
So this is why S. Darko can pretty much go to hell. Not because it's an "unauthorized" sequel, or because (almost) none of the cast is returning, or because it's a cynical attempt to capitalize on a beloved film, but because it's fundamentally misconceived. The world is not ending. There is no Frank. There's only Donnie.
A penny for your thoughts.