MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for Don’t Worry Darling. You’ve been warned.

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Don’t Worry Darling, director Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort, has got to be one of the most overly hyped flicks ever. For a while there, it seemed like every day there was some new bit of behind-the-scenes gossip going viral. Whether any of it was actually true or not was irrelevant. It’s a shame to have that be the case, as it almost completely overshadows the film itself. So it’s a relief to finally have it released, so that we can judge the flick on its own merits. Now, of course, the question is whether it deserved all that hype.

Alice and Jack stand next to each other at a party in Don't Worry Darling

Florence Pugh, Harry Styles in Don’t Worry Darling

The story begins in a seemingly perfect 1950’s community, as a group of impeccably dressed young couples parties hard, dancing and boozing it up as they listen to perfectly curated, timely tunes. They’re all residents of the town of Victory — think Palm Springs during the golden age of Hollywood, and you’ve got the flick’s absolutely gorgeous look.

Alice (Florence Pugh) and her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), are the adorably sexy couple hosting the kickback, and one of the youngest couples in the community. Their life is a beautiful, sunny dream — they party all night and, in the morning, Alice makes breakfast and walks Jack out to the car in nothing but one of his shirts, kissing him goodbye as he heads off to work.

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Sounds sexy and idyllic, but there’s some immediate weirdness as all of the other wives are outside kissing their husbands goodbye at the exact same time. And all of the guys pull out of their driveways in their flashy ’50s cars at the exact same time. Hmm.

While the husbands drive across the barren desert flats to their top-secret jobs at the “Victory Project,” the wives spend their days blithely cleaning, shopping, doing laundry and cooking dinner, with dance classes and lounge time at the pool (with lots of booze) thrown in to break up the day. When their husbands return home in the evening, the wives are ready and waiting in lovely dresses with cocktails in hand. In Alice and Jack’s case, there’s lots of hot and heavy lovemaking in lieu of dinner.

Alice rests her head on Jack's chest and smiles in Don't Worry Darling.

Florence Pugh, Harry Styles in Don’t Worry Darling

Again, sounds idyllic, right? Yeah, well, not for long. Alice starts having dreams — or maybe visions — that make her increasingly uncomfortable with her comfortable life. Images of Busby Berkeley-esque dancers with clown-like makeup and almost-creepy, precision choreography; super closeups on eyeballs and drops of blood along with snippets of her and Jack having a conversation with no context.

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Every once in a while there’s a spooky vibration felt throughout the town, kind of like a train running through. But it’s just dismissed, as Alice’s best friend Bunny (Wilde) puts it, “boys with their toys.” Then things get even weirder during a party at the Victory community leaders’ home, Frank (Chris Pine) and his ultra-sophisticated wife Shelley (Gemma Chan). Frank gives a little rah-rah talk to his devoted followers, all the couples who’ve decided to participate in his experimental, utopian community — which, he asserts, by its very existence is “changing the world.”

Afterward, Alice happens to see one of the other wives, Margaret (KiKi Layne), sitting and staring vacantly as her husband tries to give her some medication. Margaret makes a point of pushing his hand away, defiant and claiming that there’s something wrong with Victory. Then, when Alice goes inside the house and Jack finds her and they start getting busy, Alice is freaked to spot Frank watching them with a creepy smile on his face.

Frank talks to a crowd of people outside in the sunshine while they listen intently in Don't Worry Darling

Olivia Wilde, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine in Don’t Worry Darling

Alice is deeply affected by what she sees and hears, as it feeds into her own mounting feelings of doubt, along with the other clues that all is definitely not right with this world. She cracks some eggs while cooking only to find that all the eggs are empty. When she or any of the other wives dare to gossip about Margaret or their husbands’ jobs, Alice notices how they immediately shut each other down with the rules. Clearly, Margaret’s just being ridiculous and all they need to know is that by staying home (and staying silent), they’re safe. Alice tries to abide, even denying Margaret a sympathetic ear when she calls to confide in her about Victory being a sham.

RELATED: Check out our non-spoiler review of Don’t Worry Darling!

However, Alice quickly realizes that toeing the company line isn’t working anymore, when she goes for a simple ride on the town trolley to get out of the house. She sees a plane fly overhead, that seems to shimmer and then malfunction, smoking as it goes down, crashing behind the mountain where their husbands work. She begs the trolley driver to go out there and help, but he refuses, saying it’s not his job.

An incredulous Alice jumps off the trolley and starts the long, exhausting walk up the mountain only to find a strange-looking dome at the top with mirrored glass windows. When she touches the glass, she passes out.

Margaret reaches her hand out while staring listlessly in Don't Worry Darling

KiKi Layne in Don’t Worry Darling

Next thing she knows, she wakes up back at home, where Jack is busy making her dinner with a sweet sort of desperation. She tries to tell him about the plane and get him to open up about what it is he actually does at the Victory Project, but he’s not hearing any of it.

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Alice’s waking dreams/visions and her behavior get worse, as she imagines the house trying to squash her between its windows and walls. She nearly drowns herself while taking a bath. And in a particularly disturbing scene, she wraps plastic wrap around her head and keeps it there until she almost suffocates.

Then Alice’s mounting fears are validated when she sees Margaret up on the roof of her house. She slits her throat and jumps to her death. But her body’s quickly taken away by workers in red coveralls and explained away by the town doctor (Timothy Simons). Margaret’s not dead. She’s simply unwell — she accidentally fell and will be taken somewhere where she can recover.

Alice breaks an egg in her hands while staring at the fragments in shock in Don't Worry Darling

Florence Pugh in Don’t Worry Darling

Alice still tries to keep up appearances, accompanying Jack to Victory’s biggest party yet, a huge, formal bash with a swing band and a stripper (special appearance by Dita Von Teese). Frank gives another speech, this time singling Jack out for a special honor. He gives him one of the same rings he wears and invites him to be on Victory’s advisory board.

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Alice, deeply disturbed by the self-congratulatory vibe of the whole thing, retreats to the ladies’ room. When Bunny goes after her, asking her what’s wrong, Alice dumps everything on her, everything she’s seen, everything she thinks she knows. But instead of being a true friend, Bunny shuts her down like Alice did to Margaret, even telling her the same thing — she’s “being ridiculous.”

Then, in a strange gear shift, we suddenly see Alice, but not the Victory version. She’s a present-day doctor, working a long, hard ER shift before going home to her small apartment with Jack, who lives like a hermit, all greasy, long hair, disheveled and immersed in the internet. When he tries to get busy with an exhausted Alice, she’s not having it. She’s working all the time in order to keep them afloat financially, which just makes Jack look and feel like a loser. And if we listen closely to what he’s so engrossed in online, we hear the voice of Frank.

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Then it’s back to Victory, where Dr. Collins visits with Alice and Jack, and tries to give her the same medication he gave to Margaret. Alice and Jack insist they don’t need the meds. She’s just exhausted and needs time to recuperate. The doc relents and leaves, forgetting his briefcase. Alice sees a file on Margaret in it and steals it, but practically the whole thing’s been redacted, so there’s no information.

Shelley stands in front of a trophy case while looking stern in Don't Worry Darling

Gemma Chan in Don’t Worry Darling

Finally fed up, Alice decides to draw the line and throw a dinner party for their friends, including Frank and Shelley. Unbeknownst to Jack, it’s a trap. While their friends marvel at the fact that they got Frank and Shelley to come to their home, Alice is readying her attack. When they all sit down to dinner, Alice makes a point of sitting in the chair at the head of the table, forcing Jack to sit to the side and putting herself in Frank’s direct line of sight.

Then, she goes at him mercilessly, attacking with everything she’s learned, interrogating him with every question that no one is supposed to ask. Instead of caving under the pressure, Frank remains cool, calm and steadfast, which ratchets up Alice’s anger even more.

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Eventually, it’s Shelley who puts an end to the confrontation, in a superior verbal beat-down that makes Alice look the way they want her to look: ridiculous. After everyone leaves, Alice begs Jack to leave Victory with her, promising they can start over. In a wonderfully intimate scene, she tells Jack, “I believe in you. I don’t believe in him.”

Jack agrees to leave but as they sit in the car, those workers in the bright red coveralls descend on them and drag a screaming Alice away. While Jack has his own freakout, Alice gets taken to a hospital-like setting where they drug her and subject her to electro-shock treatment. So, now we know what happened to Margaret.

Alice wears a black leotard while dancing in a ballet class in Don't Worry Darling

Florence Pugh in Don’t Worry Darling

After her treatment, Jack brings Alice back home, where everyone welcomes her with a big boozy party, but the treatment doesn’t have the desired effect. When she confronts Jack yet again it turns violent, forcing Alice to defend herself and kill him with a blow to the head with his glass of scotch.

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When Alice runs outside, her beautiful dress stained with blood, the other wives seem to “wake up” as well. Even Shelley, who suddenly turns on Frank and stabs him to death in their beautiful home. Bunny, who’s known the truth all along and has been voluntarily staying in order to be with her children, tells Alice to get back to the dome on the mountain. It’s the hub of the virtual reality they’ve all been living in. 

Yep, it’s all a simulation, one where the husbands have essentially taken their wives hostage and trapped them into being slaves in their little utopia. In reality, Alice and all the other women are lying catatonic in beds while red lights shine in their Clockwork Orange-y, forcefully-opened eyes, keeping them prisoner in their own minds. And if one dies inside the simulation, they die in the real world as well.

Alice takes off in Jack’s car and the red-suited minions give chase across the desert flats to the hub. She almost doesn’t make it when she crashes the car and has to run the rest of the way up the mountain. As the minions close in on her, Alice touches the glass and finally frees herself, achieving her own Victory.

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When I first saw the trailer for Don’t Worry Darling, I was hooked by its heavy Stepford Wives vibe. I was hoping for something in that vein, and in a way, I did get it. There’s no question the seminal film influenced this story. But once you’re hip to the truth of the Victory Project, it feels a lot more like The Matrix. Which shouldn’t be a bad thing at all, but I must admit to feeling let down once I knew what the deal was. I’m not exactly sure why, except to say I was hoping for something different, something deeper into sci-fi or horror that didn’t feel like it had already been done — and done better.

Alice runs down an empty road in a sunny desert in Don't Worry Darling

Florence Pugh in Don’t Worry Darling

Don’t Worry Darling has so much going for it, mainly in Florence Pugh’s powerhouse performance. The entire thing hangs on her ability to convince us of Alice’s plight, and she rises to the challenge at every turn. The flick’s stunning design aesthetic wows, and the other actors involved are incredibly talented — especially Chris Pine’s slick, charming-yet-calculating cult leader and Gemma Chan’s Shelley, who takes demure to a whole new level.

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But another disappointment of the flick is that we only see enough of them to get the idea of them, when it would have benefitted the story to go deeper into their characters. So that we aren’t only seeing Alice’s POV all the time, but also the sinister genius behind the Victory Project, and how and why it was created in the first place.

So while I don’t think the flick is entirely successful — for me, it didn’t go deep enough into sci-fi or horror for my liking — I would still say Don’t Worry Darling works well as a psychological drama, being most effective in showing how resilient the human mind is. Even more than Alice’s fight against the insidious patriarchy, the most intriguing thing is watching as Alice’s mind finds those thin strands of truth and latches onto them, eventually pulling the fabric of lies apart and freeing her to go back to the life she truly deserves, one where she controls her own destiny.

Don't Worry Darling poster, featuring Alice and Jack in bed while staring into each other's eyes.

Directed by: Olivia Wilde

Written by: Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke (story), Shane Van Dyke (story)

Release Date: Sept. 23, 2022

Rating: R

Run Time: 2 hr, 2 min

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

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Lorinda Donovan
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