DIR/WRI: Jacob Estes • DOP: Sharone Meir • ED: Billy Fox, Scott D. Hanson• DES: Celine Diano • PRO: Jason Blum, David Oyelowo • MUS: Ethan Gold • CAST: Alfred Molina, David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Byron Mann
From the people who brought you Get Out, comes Don’t Let Go, a time-travel murder mystery. Detective Jack Radcliffe (David Oyelowo) receives a disturbing call from his teenage niece, Ashley (Storm Reid). By the time he reaches her house, she has been murdered along with her parents, Jack’s brother Garret (Brian Tyree Henry) and his wife Susan (Shinelle Azoroh). In the following weeks, Jack starts getting phone calls from Ashley, four days before her death. They must work together to solve Ashley’s murder – before it can happen. Written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek, Rings), this time-travel mystery gets lost along the way.
Although the premise piqued my interest, the time-travel elements left much to be desired. The only hint of a sci-fi element is a flashing red light that appears when timelines crossover. The time-travel effect doesn’t work because the characters talk to each other in the same location, shot separately. What you would expect to be the attraction of the film, becomes its downfall, leaving the impression of a film made for much less than $5 million.
Blumhouse’s philosophy is to make low-budget films, usually 3-5 million dollars, give the director creative control and release them to audiences around the world. Notably, this is the second Blumhouse production this year with a majority black cast, after Thriller, directed by Dallas Jackson. It’s refreshing to see a script brought to life by black actors when there are no explicit racial references and could easily have been cast with white actors.
But there are frustrating holes in the script that are hard to ignore. For example, having two characters use their smartphones to actually call each other feels out of place in 2018 (when the story takes place). Calling someone is the last thing a teenager does with their phone. At one point in the film, Ashley sees a suspicious car in her driveway and tries to describe it to her uncle over the phone rather than taking photos. It’s a large oversight considering Jack uses Ashley’s camera roll to prove to her he’s in the future.
Ultimately, the story is about how the bad choices we make influence our lives forever, and if we can save ourselves from the past. How Jack decides to be a father figure to his niece when his brother’s drug-dealing past comes back to haunt him. There’s a poignancy in the relationship between Jack and Ashley, and I wish they had more scenes together in the same timeline.
Overall, Don’t Let Go is a middle-of-the-road movie. It’s a shame the plot didn’t live up to the premise, with the story co-written by Drew Daywalt – author of the successful picture book The Day the Crayons Quit. The greatest potential in the film comes from the original music by Ethan Gold that sounds like a mixture of Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” (Shutter Island, Arrival) and Cliff Martinez’s ethereal “He Had a Good Time” from Drive (2011).
The film’s mantra is ‘you save me, I save you’ with Detective Jack investigating the murders in the present and Ashley gathering clues in the past. The actors save each other with their stellar performances but are let down by the script. Maybe if Estes had dedicated more of the story to the supernatural elements as opposed to the detective narrative, the film would be worth a second watch.
15A (see IFCO for details)
Don’t Let Go is released 27th September 2019