I just saw Richard Kelly’s recent film The Box, and was happily surprised: it was a bad movie, but it wasn’t Southland Tales bad. Just average bad. In it, Kelly tried his Donnie Darko formula of 1 part character drama, 1 part horror, and 2 parts inexplicable dreamscape, and since it fell short, it got me wondering just what exactly it was about Donnie Darko that made it so successful?

Because it is successful.

It’s that rare kind of narrative that makes great use of genre but also breaks away in critical moments to reveal… what exactly? Something, well, inexplicable. Oh sure, there are “answers” provided in the film for the kind of double-helix time signature of the story line, but really, the great part about it is that you’re left scratching your head. There’s an aura about Donnie Darko that transcends one’s need to understand, and lets one just bask in the charming, quietly unsettling mystery. So why is all the head-scratching caused by his two subsequent films so dissatisfying? Can he possibly ever top Darko?