Let's put aside, if we may, the various mini-controversies leading up to the Venice premiere of Don't Worry Darling. Now that the film has debuted, perhaps we can just focus on the movie, which is neither a triumph nor a disaster.
Director Olivia Wilde has crafted a lucid and occasionally entertaining sci-fi thriller, which borrows heavily from many good things but uses those stolen parts quite effectively. For a while, anyway.
The film looks like 1960s Palm Springs, with midcentury development threatening the desert hills. It is a planned community built by a shadowy corporation with a vaguely messianic mission to advance humanity. . . somehow.
The men, all handsome, go to work each morning while the women, beautiful, look after the children or soak themselves in afternoon cocktails with the neighboring wives.
(Or they do both.) It's an arch mix of Mad Men chic (with a glossy polish) and Manhattan Project secrecy. Of course, there's an ominous buzz underlying all this accumulated good-life, a sense that nothing this perfectly safe and uniformly agreeable can ever be real.
We probably feel this because we're familiar with The Stepford Wives, or The Truman Show, and other movies and television shows that present an outwardly primitive, if antiquated, design for living that ripples with terrible, unseen forces.
Wilde's film wears those influences simply and without much re-styling. Still, the film looks good and is filled with peppery performances. In the lead is Florence Pugh, the gorgeous 20-something who burst onto the scene in Lady Macbeth a few years ago and has since delivered one captivating performance after another.
If her cold streak and intellect, in the form of housewife Alice, seem a little out of place in this windy world, that's probably the point. Like us he realizes that he does not belong in this ordered place.
Pugh sharply registers Alice's mounting alarm, and she vibrates well with the other wives, played by comedian Kate Berlunt and Wilde herself, among others.