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Film Review

Darby and the Dead

Directed by Silas Howard
From: Hulu
Released: 12.02.22
Review by Sherin Nicole | December 2, 2022 at 9:30 AM

Basically: An infinitely watchable paranormal teen movie that flips the tropes, the clichés, and the graveyard to find everlasting friendship.

Today is the day. We can finally watch Darby and the Dead together. We’ve been waiting for you to jump into this dramedy featuring the “outcast girl who sees dead people” and the “teen queen turned scream queen.” But if you’re expecting ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE then Darby is happy to defy your expectations.

Darby (Riele Downs) is the scion of a cheerleading dynasty but since the day her mother died and she almost got swept along for the ride, Darby can commune with the dead. Dripping in EMO-fits, talking to herself, and exuding a general Emily the Strange, Wednesday, Invader Zim vibe makes popularity an improbable. BUT THEN Darby’s former bestie and current nemesis ACCIDENTALLY DEADS herself with a flatiron. That’s how Auli’i Cravalho’s Capri (as in Capricorn), the reigning best girl, becomes Darby’s Deadly Godmother. Why “deadly”? There’s the obvious but Capri is also an entire POLTERGEIST and she uses her powers for not good– not evil– so maybe nice-nastiness. 

Photo by Marcos Cruz/20th Century Studios

Here’s the thing, Capri wants to go out with a bang or a rager or a kickback—but her party has been canceled. The solution: Force Darby to get out of her shell, onto the cheer squad, and into popularity. The problem: Darby don’t wanna. Being the heir to Capri’s throne comes with too many complications. Like inheriting the clingy ex-boyfriend (Asher Angel). Oh hai, BOY-WITH-GUITAR. Sidebar: Can we take a moment to recognize that “Asher Angel” is the most perfect YA hero name in all of time? Thank you for your recognition . . . but they call him “James” in this movie. Anyway, back to the complications, stepping into Capri’s shoes also means hanging with the most sardonic, brutally honest, and self-aggrandizing but totally self-aware group of cheerleaders and WE LOVE THEM. But trying to manipulate the squad to put the Capri-Party back together means Darby can’t get close to the sweet DONUT-BOY (Chosen Jacobs) who is trying so hard to get into her orbit.

Are you not intrigued? If not, are you emotionally muted?

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

You may think you’re about to fall into a high school hellhole full of clichés and rehashes but that’s not where this is going. Need proof? Without spoilers, let’s examine a couple of themes: Darby and the Dead flips the typical makeover—Darby’s hair goes from buss down to natural curls. Which is a metaphor for coming out and coming into yourself WHEN [deep breath] who you truly are might be a mixture of who you were and what you claim to hate when you’re really just avoiding who you want to be because you’re scared. [and now we breathe] The Cheer Squad isn’t there to show us the worst Darby could be—they show her the possibilities of refusing to conform to the roles society designs for us. Capri may be queen but she isn’t the mean girl (although the tongue is sharp)—she’s the one who goes for what she wants without apologies but without leaving tread marks on anyone else’s head along the way (for the most part). 

See what I mean?

Darby and the Dead consistently swerves into enchantment with its tropes and you’ll be so into the possibilities you’ll wish for an 8-episode season rather than a two-hour movie. Well friends, hopefully, Hulu/Disney is listening.

In the End: We’re into Darby and the Dead and we want more.

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