Donnie Darko is my favorite film of 2001, though I didn't actually see it until 2003. Moon is my favorite film of 2009, one I got to crown at the actual time of its release.
Neither film needs or is capable of supporting an expanded universe, though I can see why people would try. "People" in this case being a studio with the rights to Darko director Richard Kelly's intellectual property, and Moon's director himself, Duncan Jones. (Though Kelly did try to expand the Darko universe in other ways in his other films, with poor results -- a friend and I even referred to it as the "Kellyverse.")
S. Darko -- released in 2009 straight to video -- was terrible. Mute -- the "spiritual sequel" to Moon released in 2018 to the modern-day equivalent of straight-to-video, Netflix -- may be even worse.
Jones was smart not to overburden his new film with references to Moon. In fact, I could detect only one scene that overtly references it, and it's really just a background shot of Moon main character Sam Bell in a courtroom on the news. (I guess that's sort of a spoiler for Moon, but you've already seen Moon, haven't you?)
But that's a level of restraint Jones does not show in any other aspect of this production. The damn thing runs for 126 meandering minutes, introducing us to awful characters in an underworld that's uninteresting. Having to watch awful characters in itself is not an issue, but when the film confuses them as kind of co-protagonists rather than the antagonists they really should be, and then even gives them morally relativistic beefs with each other, then this thing has gone way off the rails.
For all its many, many failings, S. Darko at least had the sense to exist in the same type of world with the same type of unexplained stimuli as in Donnie Darko -- wormholes, etc. It just doesn't do it interestingly, and is of poor quality in almost every aspect of its execution, most notably the acting.
The acting is okay in Mute, for the most part, but Mute's failures feel worse overall, as they are emblematic of a new type of franchising/universe-building to which Netflix is particularly susceptible. We are just coming off the cataclysmic failure of another Netflix original release, The Cloverfield Paradox, which I thought was a contender for my worst film of 2018, even at this early date. That movie was retrofitted to have elements that linked it to an existing cinematic universe, the Cloverfield universe, which itself is already a bit poorly defined, as the second film in the series was meant to exist more as a new chapter in an anthology than one that connects directly to the original Cloverfield. Needless to say, the attempt in Paradox did not work.
Mute is guilty of a similar thing, though it was premeditated and not retrofitted. The actual text of Mute has nothing to do with Moon, as the films are different stylistically and look at entirely different planets (Moon never sets foot on Earth). So the only reason it needs to be part of a Moon universe is to give the film some additional buzz for fans, to give them a reason to see what is otherwise a turd. "Spiritual sequel?" Why, Duncan? Because you decided to stick in one scene with Sam Rockwell in it? With newly minted Oscar winner Sam Rockwell in it?
Moon is full of heart and brimming with a certain type of optimism, despite being underpinned by a certain cynicism related to human beings and their tendencies. How can a movie in which the robot decides to do the right thing not be optimistic?
Nothing but the cynicism survives in Mute, a movie made even worse by the fact that it is dedicated to his father, David Bowie. This is a wretched movie that looks terrible, and its one truly sympathetic character, the character Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) who can't speak, is poorly defined and missing for weirdly large sections of the movie.
It's a waste of my time to continue picking apart Mute, but let's just say The Cloverfield Paradox cannot be my worst movie of 2018 with Mute around.
For Jones' sake, I hope he doesn't go the route of Darko director Richard Kelly, who made one brilliant film and then two awful ones, and now cannot get another movie made. Though Jones' career is on a similar downward trajectory, as his follow-up to Moon, Source Code, was liked by most people but not me, then his next movie, Warcraft, was liked by almost nobody. With two hits rather than one, Jones will probably get a few more lives than Kelly did, but if he keeps making movies like Mute, they will dry up quickly.