It was interesting to grow up in the 2000’s when there was a very eclectic selection of independent films that seemed to spring up overnight. Christopher Nolan’s career defining Memento, Darren Aronosky’s sophomore hit Requiem for a Dream, Jared Hess’ awkwardly hilarious Napoleon Dynamite, and Michel Gondry’s beautifully heartbreaking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were all destined for greatness. But let’s not forget the oddity that was Donnie Darko. Coming out on the heels of one of America’s biggest recent tragedies (released October 2001) it became a cult hit the catapulted writer/director Richard Kelly to fame. Since then he’s had a small, but interesting body of work. The question is, Where is he now? Let’s start back where it all began.
-The Dawn of Darko-
Donnie Darko is a film that has had an interesting life in these past fifteen years. Going from that obscure title setting on the shelf of Hollywood Video, to Internet cult sensation, to Hot Topic fodder it gained fans. Ask most people in their late 20’s and early 30’s if they’ve seen it and odds are they have. It was a weird film that dealt with time travel, 80’s culture, and the dark undercurrent of suburban life. It even got a director’s cut release on DVD (with A Kevin Smith commentary, weird). People have debated the philosophical meanings of this film ever since it’s release. It took a few years, but this film became the calling card for Kelly to build his career upon.
-The Sophomore Slump?-
With the success of Darko Kelly had built up enough goodwill in Hollywood to begin production on Southland Tales. The original premise was to be a satire of the Hollywood culture, but morphed into a dark political satire after 9/11. The story took on the Patriot Act, the oil crisis, and whole mess of other threads. I use the word mess quite literally. When the film premiered at The Cannes Film Festival in 2006 it was met with the most brutal audience reception in recent memory. Aside from the incoherent story it also fell back into some territory that Kelly already explored in Donnie Darko. While I can not defend this film by any stretch of the imagination it is something of an interesting oddity. Kelly tried to make 21st century equivalent of Dr. Strangelove, I can’t say he fully succeeded.
Hot off the heels of Southland’s extremely limited released news popped up of Kelly crafting an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s popular short story and Twilight Zone episode Button, Button entitled The Box. Simple synopsis: A couple gets a package with a button inside. If they press the button they’ll earn a large sum of money, but at the same time someone they don’t know will die as a consequence. A pretty novel idea that was ripe for a fresh take. Once again Kelly’s ideas bog down a solid story with water cubes, lightning strikes re-animating people, government conspiracies, and whether people’s ethics will damn humanity to extermination. It goes off the rails and once again what could have been a taut thriller became more about the same philosophical questions that were in his previous stories. Much like Southland Tales The Box is worth seeing, but whether or not you’ll like it is a whole different thing.
Since The Box’s release in 2009 Kelly has had projects he intended to direct that ultimately ended up in development hell. Corpus Christi, a film collaboration with Eli Roth fell apart due to budget and casting issues. Another project Amicus was intended for release in 2014 has had no further information released. Although IMDb Pro lists a film entitled Soulmates directed by Kelly with a 2016 release I couldn’t find a single piece of news anywhere else online. The only indication that Kelly hasn’t completely disappeared is his production company Darko Entertainment being part of some recent releases.
So what does the future hold for Richard Kelly? His career could be permanently forced to being in the producer’s seat helping get more commercial films into productions. Or maybe he’ll make a huge comeback with some new and exciting project. Time will tell. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Are you a fan of Richard Kelly’s films? Do you like everything he’s been a part of or just Donnie Darko?
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