DON’T LET GO; 2019
Written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes
Starring David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Alfed Molina, Brian Tyree Henry
Rated R; 103 minutes
Bobs Entry #38 in 100 Days Of Horror. – where we watch 100 horror films we’ve not seen leading up to Halloween. You may notice I use the word horror once in the below. True. But it touches a little into genre, and promotional material refers to being in genre – so close enough. See what else other citizens of City Of Geek have been watching on the page linked there or check out short video reviews on YouTube.
Don’t Let Go is a frustrating film. It has a solid premise and a stable of consistently reliable actors, yet fails to use its seed of an idea to sprout more than a sapling of a film. In the post-show discussion of the six citizens of City of Geek present – the standard four of us and two friends – we came up with several far more interesting ways to use the set-up than the film itself did. That’s why we found the Jacob Aaron Estes written and directed sci-fi/horror/thriller to be so frustrating. Don’t Let Go doesn’t allow itself to dig into a great idea in any sort of more-than-basic way.
If you’re like just about everyone- you may be wondering what that premise may be. Despite a summer release (albeit to 900 screens at the tail end), trailers have been light. I go to the movies two to three times a week. I’ve seen the Terminator and Ad Astra trailers dozens of times now. I saw Don’t Let Go’s once. Two weeks ago. I digress; let’s talk plot. David Oyelowo is a Los Angeles police officer. Storm Reid is his precocious niece, daughter of Brian Tyree Henry. When Reid and her parents are murdered, Oyelowo is understandably distraught. Until he starts receiving phone calls from his niece. She’s dead, but not a ghost. She’s calling from two weeks in the past. Together they can solve her murder in order to prevent it.
A solid conceit, Frequency with more pressing force of action; a little more mystery. Not much more mystery, however. There is the central mystery of who committed the murder and why, yet it’s easily solved. (The reason of why this is happening is never even questioned, but that’s a plus. That dialog would have been more awkward than what we already have. ) I’ve seen enough similar thrillers even without the sci-fi aspect to immediately figure out the entirety of the plot as soon as the murders occur. It wasn’t just me. All six of us, including the sixteen year-old, latched onto the obvious conclusion just about instantly. Knowing where the plot is going to go can be fine if done well or the filmmakers are aware the audience knows the film’s end as soon as the film starts. Ari Aster’s Midsommar did this very well earlier this sommar, er summer. Aster knew we all knew the conclusion, so led us along in how it is to happen. Don’t Let Go doesn’t realize how obvious it is, thus the frustrating aspect of the audience knowing where the story is going long before the characters, dragging us along as we wait for the film and characters to catch up.
This issue ripples through the film, affecting it just as Reid’s actions alter her uncle’s future. By taking the time to move the plot along, it doesn’t allow the clever aspects the audience is filling in for the idea. There is a major scene, the tipping point for the two leads, where they both are finally on the same page over what’s happening. This occurs at a little over the hour point. I feel this would have better served the story if it occurred thirty minutes previously. After this happens, the film is forced to run headlong into the climax. It is here where an often awkward but interesting moving chugging along by good performances and concept falls flat on its face, devolving into a series of silly set pieces and moments.
By moving this reveal – one we all know and are screaming for the movie to get to it so it can use it, there could be more scenes of both of the leads working together to solve the murders in the two time-lines. When this did happen a few times, the film worked. It was wonderful to see two people on different times affect one another. Other ideas are brought up – including the possibility to go Groundhog Day or Happy Death Day with it, but only used once. The string is presented, but barely pulled. Wish Upon from two years previous did the same – present an interesting thread but before exploring it, abandoning it. With these moments, one can see where the film could go into a much more interesting track, but then restrains itself. Frustrating. Run with it! If it’s done well, the audience will join you. If done awful, they still might (Serenity), but just don’t let it sit there and fester.
David Oyelowo and Storm Reid help keep the film from fully sinking. Both give committed, solid performances. It’s good to see Oyelowo again, after marching onto the scene four years ago in Selma, he’s not really been seen (although heard in Star Wars Rebels. Storm Reid is a fine actress, doing as best she can to elevate this and the disastrous Wrinkle in Time (also featuring the voice of Oyelowo). They have a solid connection, connecting first in person and later across phone calls. Unfortunately, Alfred Molina phones it in with a very awkward performances. But oh Bowie, Mykelti Williamson is just awful as Oyelowo’s best friend and police partner Bobby. Every line reading is really off from everyone else, forced through in incredibly awkward and often comical performance. Someone teach this man how to hold a gun! Each time he does so it’s nearly like the inept cops in Plan Nine from Outer Space; holding limp-wristed or even aiming at his own chest and face. This makes an already inane performance ridiculous.
Don’t Let Go is a waste of a compelling premise. The leads make an attempt but they can’t save the film from sinking itself by failing to lean into the idea. Your head version of the story likely has better twists, turns, and a less obvious mystery. It starts alright, even if a few moments don’t quite land, but in the last forty minutes becomes a preposterous comedy. It’s not really worth your time. Frequency is, if you haven’t seen that.
Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Cvi2fLicKQ