Studio: Blumhouse Tilt
Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Writer: Jacob Aaron Estes, Drew Daywalt
Producer: Jason Blum, Bobby Cohen, David Oyelowo
Stars: David Oyelowo, Mykelti Williamson, Brian Tyree Henry, Shinelle Azoroh, Byron Mann, April Grace, Storm Reid, Alfred Molina
Inexplicably connected across two timelines, a detective and his dead niece work together to uncover who murdered their family.
Police detective Jack Radcliffe thought life was looking up for his loving niece Ashley. Her father Garret¡¯s drug dealing days appeared to finally be behind him. Garret not only rediscovered music, but rekindled his relationship with Ashley¡¯s mother too. Maybe now Ashley wouldn¡¯t always require her uncle¡¯s help whenever mom and dad¡¯s irresponsible selfishness stranded her on the street.
One phone call changes Jack¡¯s idle optimism to world-shattering horror. Alarmed by a frantic message from Ashley, Jack rushes to his brother¡¯s home only to find the entire family murdered, including his niece.
A second phone call turns Jack¡¯s overwhelming grief into adrenalized shock. Two weeks after the tragedy, Jack receives another message from Ashley. Against all logic, his deceased niece appears to be very much alive.
Jack discovers Ashley somehow contacted him from four days before her death. She doesn¡¯t know the fate creeping up on her, but Jack does, and he thinks he can stop it. With his niece unknowingly providing clues from another timeline, Jack races against the clock to unravel the mystery of what happened to Ashley and possibly rewrite his past as well as her future.
Initially titled ¡°Relive¡± when it premiered at Sundance, ¡°Don¡¯t Let Go¡± uses a classic paradox premise to spin an unexpectedly moving fable where powerful family bonds break restricting rules of reality. Don¡¯t let the setup¡¯s familiarity lead you into believing the film isn¡¯t fresh. Laser-focused pacing and excellent acting ensure suspense stays at a slant worth investing in. Don¡¯t worry about the film¡¯s concept spiraling out of hand either. Nimble storytelling shoots straight, without forcing confusing complications included only to add an empty illusion of cleverness.
The fact that ¡°Don¡¯t Let Go¡± doesn¡¯t try fooling anyone with wild swerves can actually detract from the fantasy. Due to its slim cast, the movie has a severe shortage of people to present as red herrings. Figuring out the culprit waiting at the end of the trail isn¡¯t difficult for anyone determined to stay a step ahead of Jack instead of attaching to the emotional arcs.
Fortunately, the mystery isn¡¯t wrapped up exclusively in the whodunit. How and why matter just as much, maybe more, as the movie evolves into a fascinating procedural motivated by grounded drama more than twisty gumshoe gimmickry.
To that end, ¡°Don¡¯t Let Go¡± sets a stage for David Oyelowo to solidify himself as a captivating lead. The movie requires a performer of extraordinary ability to keep the gas pedal pressed since Jack often interacts with only a prop phone. David Oyelowo does it with deceptive deftness. In as few establishing scenes as possible, Oyelowo creates a complete character who is cunning, caring, and able to form a heartwarming relationship by bouncing off a counterpart who isn¡¯t even in the room with him.
Oyelowo¡¯s gravitas inherently vets Jack¡¯s intellect in fast fashion. Because the confounding circumstances pass his tests, you¡¯re less compelled to question details that don¡¯t concern him. What works for Jack works for the audience.
Storm Reid¡¯s audition reel can consist entirely of her scenes from ¡°Don¡¯t Let Go.¡± Any agent who needs additional evidence before booking her in future projects may have issues recognizing emerging talent. Reid¡¯s Ashley is wise, witty, and endearing with just the right spice of teenage naivety to cover the character¡¯s gamut of physical trials and psychological tribulations. Her tears project true pain, gut-punching engaged viewers with confident convincingness.
No ¡°time travel¡± thriller has ever tied up every loose end or held up completely when refrigerator logic is applied in retrospect. Of course this includes ¡°Don¡¯t Let Go.¡± In addition to carrying a generous pinch of predictability, ¡°Don¡¯t Let Go¡± bobbles the ball over the goal line when shortchanged moments and characters have trouble making clean blocks. Despite a terrifyingly violent yet blood-pumping climax, abruptness roughs up the ending with what looks like rushed editing rather than inventive intention.
Nevertheless, the movie¡¯s hooks are sharper than its hindrances, and there are overwhelmingly more of the former than there are of the latter. Propelled by its top two performances, ¡°Don¡¯t Let Go¡± efficiently pulls viewers along from clue to clue, beat to beat, and scene to scene with invigorating tension that rarely allows slack in its rope.
Review Score: 80