DON’T LET GO

All stories come from asking one simple question: What if? What if a young college graduate started an affair with a much older family friend? What if a killer shark terrorized a populated coastal town? What if a wealthy man dressed up as a bat in order to fight crime? The possibilities are endless when you just ask those two simple words. None of those concepts would have been memorable, though, if the execution wasn’t there. I mean, what’s the point of a great idea if you don’t do anything with it? 

Don’t Let Go follows Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo), a detective who has a very close relationship with his niece Ashley (Storm Reid). Tragically, Ashley is killed in a murder-suicide by her father Garrett (Brian Tyree Henry) and Jack is distraught. Two weeks later, he receives a phone call… who turns out to be Ashley calling from the day of her murder. Realizing that he may be able to prevent Ashley’s death and there may be some foul play involved with his family’s death, Jack and Ashley work together in the two separate timelines to save her and reunite. 

So, what if a detective received a phone call from his dead niece in order to save her life? Well, we have a movie that’s a little bit of FrequencyCellular, and The Lake House all mixed together. For the first act, I was totally on board and intrigued, but as the events unfolded, my interest slowly waned. While the whole concept isn’t the most original idea in the world, writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes competently sets up the characters and events. You really believe Jack and Ashley’s relationship and when he discovers her murdered along with her family, it’s sickening and shocking. Estes directs the sequence with a haunting and dreadful atmosphere, with excellent tension as the sights Jack uncovers becomes more and more grisly. It perfectly puts you in his shoes and you feel his mounting grief all the way from his discovery of the crime scene to him silently drinking the pain away in his home. Estes definitely knew how to bring his story to life in the visual sense, with a lot of striking shot composition, but he sometimes felt more concerned with being stylish than painting a clear picture of what we’re saying. The score from Ethan Gold is especially terrific, giving a very atmospheric and dream-like air to the proceedings. 

It’s at the beginning of the second act where the film begins to slowly fall. When Jack discovers that Garrett’s murder-suicide may just be a straight up murder committed by somebody else, he goes into full investigation mode. This also means we enter into full cliché territory, as everything feels very derivative and repetitive from here on out. A lot of it just amounts to Jack and Ashley running around and talking on phones as they uncover clues. While they still have that believable uncle-niece relationship when they’re not on screen, it’s here where you realize there’s not a whole lot to their characters beyond their love for each other. The rest of the characters don’t leave any impact and they’re certainly not saved by all of the awkward dialogue. At least our two leads are terrific, totally carrying the film from beginning to end. They were the two things keeping me even slightly invested, because by the end, I didn’t really care and wasn’t sure why I should in the first place. 

Another big thing is that when you have a film that has a clearly unrealistic premise, it has to play by its own rules. This is about time travel, so of course it’s not in our typical reality, but it really didn’t make a whole lot of sense in the movie’s reality. We never really know why or how Ashley is still able to communicate with Jack, but you don’t necessarily have to explain the why as long as what happening makes sense. There’s your classic time travel element of what you do in the past affects the future and all that, but it sometimes felt inconsistent with what would have an effect, and what didn’t. All of the inconsistencies and the flat characters really made it hard for me to care. Since Ashley and her family already died and now they’re back to life, what are the consequences if they die again? Does the timeline just reset again, giving them another chance? If Ashley is saved and the rest of her family is dead, do they just stay dead and this is now the real timeline? It eventually became too many questions and I was more often confused instead of invested. 

The story doesn’t really amount to a whole lot in the end and when the big reveal of Ashley and her family’s death finally comes, Don’t Let Go had lost all its steam and devolved into your standard detective film. David Oyelowo and Storm Reid definitely do their best and Jacob Aaron Estes clearly has a sure hand when it comes to direction and coming up with high concepts, but all in all, it’s an intriguing idea that’s not fully realized. But hey, I gotta say while I didn’t love it, I am interested to see what Estes has lined up next. 

5/10

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