From Donnie Darko to Southland Tales: The Rise and Fall of Richard Kelly's Directorial Career

News - 13 January 2024

In 2001, Richard Kelly introduced audiences to his debut film, the enigmatic Donnie Darko. Despite not achieving commercial success, the film has garnered a devoted and expanding cult following over the years. However, just because a director starts strong doesn't mean their success will continue.

Kelly's career took a hit with his follow-up film, Southland Tales. Donnie Darko has earned its cult status for a variety of reasons. The film blends complex high school characters with themes of time travel, psychological horror, and apocalyptic paranoia, making it a standout debut of the early 2000s.

What's even more impressive is that Kelly, the writer-director, was only 26 years old when the film was released.After the critical acclaim and increasing popularity of Donnie Darko, Kelly had a significant amount of influence in the film industry. His next project, Southland Tales, was a bold departure from the norm.

This ambitious dystopian musical, clocking in at over two hours, delved into celebrity culture in America while satirizing government corruption and military influence. With a proposed comic book supplement to further explore the complex world he created, Kelly's sophomore effort displayed a fearless approach in striving for lofty goals.Southland Tales unfolds in an alternate reality Los Angeles in 2008, during a three-day heat wave leading up to a massive 4th of July celebration.

The narrative follows three individuals whose lives intersect in a convoluted and dystopian tale. Boxer Santaros (played by Dwayne Johnson) is an actor known for his action roles who struggles with memory loss. Krysta Now (portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a pornographic actress immersed in her own television show.

Finally, Roland/Ronald Taverner (played by Seann William Scott) is a troubled police officer caught up in his own turmoil. Unfortunately, Southland Tales was not well-received by critics and faced challenges from the start. A disastrous premiere at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival marked the beginning of a slew of negative publicity.

The limited release of the film resulted in a dismal global box office earning of $375,000, far below its estimated budget of $15-17 million. As a result, Kelly's once promising reputation took a significant hit, and his subsequent film, The Box (2009), was met with mixed financial success.Despite the controversies surrounding Kelly's work, some viewers admire his ambition, unique style, and thematic depth.

Over time, Southland Tales developed a dedicated fan base. Kelly has even hinted at the potential for expanding the film into a franchise, with plans in motion for the original cast to return. However, there is uncertainty about whether and when these additional films may come to fruition.

For those interested in viewing Southland Tales, the film is not readily available on mainstream streaming platforms and must be purchased or rented from select outlets.