A jet engine plummeting into the bedroom of a troubled teenage boy, a demonic rabbit, and time travel... Donnie Darko was not made to be an easily digestible blockbuster, but the uneasy and incomprehensible nature of the film has made it a cult classic.

The film is a concoction of science fiction, teenage romance, and psychological thriller; the genius of it lying in its inability to be neatly classified.

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Released two months after the attacks of September 11th 2001, writer/director Richard Kelly's debut only scraped past the $500,000 box-office threshold during its initial run. A year later, the Pioneer Theatre in New York’s East Village became renowned for its screenings of the film. Donnie Darko was reborn as a bona fide hit in terms of DVD sales, and thus was cemented one of the seminal films of the early 2000s.

Part of the film’s success was the presentation of troubled teenagers in a way that was neither patronising or stereotypical. The combination of consuming angst and the uncertainty of the very fabric of time within the film’s world created one of the most gripping cinematic atmospheres of the last two decades.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is in turn fragile and explosive as 16-year-old Donnie. His therapist tells his parents that their son is grappling with paranoid schizophrenia, while he feels as though his surreal visions and sightings of a monstrous human-sized rabbit are part of a puzzle he is destined to solve. The lines what’s real and what isn’t blur and shift, creating constant low-level tension.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone and Frank The Rabbit in Donnie Darko

The world he inhabits is like any small American town in the mid-1980s, but there’s always a sense of something more sordid just underneath the clean-cut veneer of Middlesex, Virginia. The warped version of the John Hughes teen movie narrative with Donnie and new girl Gretchen (Jena Malone), is both romantic and disconcerting, and features some of the best music from the 1980s era, including Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen.

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Kelly created a complex and multilayered film, a strange beast. The surreal and dreamlike quality of the film is complemented by the evocative soundtrack by Michael Andrews, all ghostly vocals, haunting keys and ominous strings.

Some may watch it and be frustrated at the lack of an easily explicable narrative, but it's better to take the film as it comes, allow yourself to become absorbed in it, and place yourself in the mind of Donnie himself.

Twenty years on, it remains a glitchy, disquieting and beautiful masterpiece, embraced by newer generations entranced by this beautiful, confusing film.

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