Directed By Jacob Estes
Starring – David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Byron Mann
The Plot – After a man’s (Oyelowo) family dies in what appears to be a murder, he gets a phone call from one of the dead, his niece (Reid). He’s not sure if she’s a ghost or if he’s going mad, but as it turns out, he’s not.
Rated R for violence, bloody images, and adult language
– Electric cast all around. Oyelowo and Reid are definitely the prize centerpieces here, but the surprising inclusions of Bryan Tyree Henry, Alfred Molina, and the endlessly charismatic Mykelti Williamson round out a collection of big screen presences that transcends the Blumhouse production value that most of his films become saddled with. Reid continues to be a revelation who is decades ahead of her age. The tremendous range and emotional captivation that comes with someone so interactive with the camera pays off immensely through some pretty soul-crushing sequences. Storm lives up to her name by rumbling the ground, and devastating everything in her wake, complimentary of her timely tears and uncontrolled angst that earns her tremendous empathy from this critic. Oyelowo is another national treasure by this point, and his central protagonist here outlines a complex character who may be at the breaking point of his life, not only for the valuable loss, but also for what toll it took on his psyche. This is a man who contends that he may be unstable, especially after he receives calls from the deceased, and David’s articulation to craft outlines the delicacy of a man so shattered by the circumstances. Oyelowo gets to transcend his drama dominance for some physicality in this role that he otherwise isn’t known for, and it presents a new direction for the young actor that is every bit believable as it is fresh for the course of his early career.
– Uncle and niece dynamic. This relationship is enriched with a combination of believable dialogue and inside jokes, which gives their bond a real lived-in feeling of quality that better illustrates their history. In fact, the chemistry between Oyelowo and Reid is so precise that they often times feel like father and daughter, giving them an importance to one another that better captures the tragedy of the one fateful day between them. In addition to this, it’s nice that the film’s initial plot points before the madness are only between them, keeping the pacing leveled before we’re off to the races with the conflict of our story, at only fifteen minutes in. Beyond this, it’s a relationship that talks over the phone instead of texts, establishing their strength in unity once more for the subtleties that a modern day technological snob like myself can enjoy. As someone who has 11 different nieces and nephews, it’s nice to see a story that caters to the relationship that is rarely given center stage attention in film, and this dedicated time adds emphasis to the crippling weight of loss that occurs once the inevitable comes.
– Meaningful editing. I will get to my problems with the overall presentation of the movie later, but the one positive that I did take away was metaphorical editing, which brought these two worlds together seamlessly before our very eyes. Particularly during the scene at the diner, while both uncle and niece are on the phone together, their unabashed focus at the camera, as well as sharp cuts between each line of dialogue distributed gives the scenes a feeling like both exist in the same timeline for the first time since the beginning stages of the film, feeding further into the tragedy of the conflict for how close they feel in distance, yet so far away in reality. It’s very rare that I get to commend a film for giving meaning behind something as common as editing, but the pasting of these two respective timelines fools us into thinking that for just a moment everything is alright in this world, presenting a catalyst that satisfies ours and the character’s yearning’s to fit the pieces together competently, on the road to solving this mystery.
– The mystery. Speaking of which, there is a resolution to this conflict, and thankfully it wasn’t the one I was thinking throughout the entire movie. Upon looking back on it, the aspects that I fell for seem a bit too obvious now, and instead of settling for the “Shutter Island” ending, which seems all of the rage in 2019, the film does give us a face for the culprit, and it’s one that equally satisfied and intrigued for how everything was paid off. This is presented in a third act presentation that plays side-by-side with our current day narrative, and proves that anyone who you’re supposed to be trusting within this world, you really shouldn’t. There’s enough Macguffins thrown in along the way to keep our mental engines finely tuned, but in the end the script makes the right movements not only in bringing forth a fun performance by this revealing antagonist, but also in refusing to settle for a supposed shocking direction that feels conventional by this point.
– Golden musical score. The real breakthrough star of the film is musical composer Ethan Gold, a man well known for instilling these ominous tones to these worlds of darkness and corruption. His work here may be his single best to date, as the repetition with subtle twists thrown in the deeper the tracks get keeps your ears glued to the speakers, all the while fleshing out the atmosphere of the character’s living in this nightmare world within the sunny side of Los Angeles. In this perspective, the articulate juggling of paranoia, urgency, and tragedy radiate ever so transfixingly throughout, stalking our characters like an unforeseen gunman who they can’t see, yet one whose presence constantly influences the dynamic of this intensity.
– Miscalculations. There’s a lot that clearly wasn’t thought out about this gimmick, but a couple of big ones come to mind. For one, what halfway competent police force leaves a victim’s blood-covered cell phone in the bathtub, yet grabs several other meaningless items like magazines? This is obviously a convenient plot device to allow Oyelowo to find and communicate with his niece’s phone, but one scene of him (A cop) finding it in evidence could’ve cleared all of this up. Secondly, the rules of things changed in the past has almost no effect on the future. This practically re-defines the butterfly effect to perplexing levels, as nothing within Storm’s past movements rumbles the dynamic of the present, other than the ones the scene asks for, like paint or chewing gum. Surely this child would’ve messed something up in current day, but her time travel would make Marty McFly awestruck, for how flawless her track disturbs the present. Finally, the ending is the most ridiculous dealing with physics that I have ever seen. SPOILERS, DO NOT PROCEED. When a character who is killed in the past, it vanishes not only them but another character in the present, deeming this timeline inconsequential to the story. How is this possible? You can’t erase present day, and then live in the past. Time travel doesn’t work like that. Even worse, it practically kills characters who had nothing done to them from that previous age. I’ve gone cross-eyed just thinking about it.
– Jarring presentation. Easily the most offensive aspect of this production, as the visuals in the movie gave me Vietnam flashbacks for how headache-inducing they feel. For one, the decision to craft this movie in handheld style is one that comes with visually incoherent chase scenes and conflicts, that make it difficult to register even the tiniest of details in the complexion of the scene. The other problem is this horrendous visual dissolving effect that was last seen in “Suicide Squad”, and is given an unnecessary rebirth here. At least in that movie, the point was to obstruct healthy thinking with Joker’s corrupt insanity, but here the gimmick is a failed attempt at art that adds nothing but a visual speedbump to what we are interpreting. Estes direction is amateurish at best here, leaving tons of opportunity in capturing the essence of the seedy L.A nightlife in exchange for a shaking camera hangover that makes it difficult to stay invested during scenes of action.
– Lack of originality. Jason Blum must not have seen 2000’s “Frequency” a movie where Jim Caviezel is trying to save his deceased father (Dennis Quaid) through the use of a ham-radio. There are subtle differences here and there, mostly in the graphic nature of the hard-R rating that comes with colorfully illustrating more of an adult rendering, but the overall spectrum of comparison between the films points to more than a few identical coincidences that proves Hollywood doesn’t even have the energy to go back thirty years when trying to pull the wool over the eyes of its mostly teenage audience. For my money, “Frequency” is a better movie, not only for the originality of its release, but also for the heart of the story, and attention to its rules, which ever kept it from feeling convoluted.
– A missed opportunity. One aspect that I wish the film would’ve explored was in the contrast between brothers, one being a cop, and the other being a criminal. This road isn’t taken because the supporting characters are barely even supporting, receiving nothing of exposition or valued screen time to better flesh out their personalities for the exposure of the audience. This film could’ve carried with it a complexity for today’s modern justice landscape with minorities, especially considering its two males in question are African Americans, and ones whose paths have taken entirely different routes in outlining the humans we see before us. With very little poignancy or provocative social commentary to its material, “Don’t Let Go” wastes a mostly black cast’s chance at connecting the seams of distance that today’s racial injustices have further distanced, leaving us nothing beneath the surface level plot to stick to us, minutes after leaving the theater.
– Rushed. This is really more with the lack of natural development in the plot, as well as minimalist characters, who are only there as a body count to the borderline torturous violence. For the pacing, the movie is solid enough, clocking in at 98 fluid minutes that constantly keep the unraveling of the mystery at entirely satisfying levels. Where that’s a problem to someone like me, who appreciates the little aspects that make a bigger picture, is in the answers given to the question relying on far too much convenience. In my opinion, “Don’t Let Go” would work better as a weekly television show instead of an under two hour narrative. There’s very little struggle in the detective work, nor is there rarely ever a feeling of helplessness for the little girl. It always feels like it will work out, and that’s a major hit for compelling drama, which often relies on vulnerability or determination to sell its human factor.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+