Studio: Saban Films
Director: Alex McAulay
Writer: Alex McAulay
Producer: Chris Mangano, Merry-Kay Poe
Stars: Jack Dylan Grazer, Fionn Whitehead, Mena Suvari, Rainn Wilson
Two brothers face a divisive dilemma when a man who chases them after a robbery becomes trapped at the bottom of an old well.
Fionn Whitehead plays a perfectly-pitched douchebag in ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul,¡± maybe one of the best overbearing older brothers imaginable, and that¡¯s not an exaggeration. 17-year-old Matt may not be the most original depiction of that archetype. But he is defined by more than the mere wardrobe of a knit beanie pulled down to clenched eyebrows and wife-beaters worn over a persistently puffed chest.
Matt¡¯s menace comes from the way Whitehead arrogantly struts with an antagonistic sneer begging to be punched. Wound tight as a way of rebelling against the reality of living in a lower class world, Matt inflates his sense of strength by bullying younger brother Joey. His desire to demean a defenseless sibling gives Matt most of his motivation. Yet Whitehead relishes Matt¡¯s vague villainy while sharpening a slight sense of sympathy so he can have a ¡°this is just how brothers behave¡± excuse for dishing out tough love. The whiff of compassion Whitehead injects suggests Matt may partly be giving grief out of a perverted sense of ¡°man of the house¡± responsibility.
Matt¡¯s latest sibling scheme has him pressuring 14-year-old Joey into stealing cash out of an old lady¡¯s remote home. Matt can¡¯t rob the place himself because it¡¯s undergoing fumigation. Matt instead puts a gas mask, and all of the risk, on Joey by forcing him to do the crime. He reminds his brother that their cancer-stricken mother needs the money to get out from under a mountain of medical bills. Double that desperation with his fear of Matt and Joey eagerly obliges.
Their family¡¯s financial troubles take a backseat to a more immediate problem when security guard Dave Hamby catches the two teens in the act. After successfully stealing the loot, it seems luck has run out. Except it runs out for Hamby, not for the brothers.
While chasing Matt and Joey through a forest, Hamby falls into an old well. To Matt, this unexpected situation is a godsend he could only dream of. The lone witness to the robbery now lies in a hole 20 feet deep, unable to alert authorities. To Joey, this is another nightmare. He doesn¡¯t possess his brother¡¯s callousness to abandon the man to die a long death. But what¡¯s Joey supposed to do when ¡°the right thing¡± could result in more hardships for their family, and his brother might throw him into the same hole if he tries?
Say whatever you want about ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul,¡± but that¡¯s a solid ¡°what would you do?¡± setup for a grim dilemma. This isn¡¯t a cut-and-dried case of right and wrong. Joey feels his back up against two walls: that of his fearsome brother and that of their family¡¯s deep debt, which adds a light ¡°Les Miserables¡± element to shade their theft grey. Each option for what to do next comes with clear Pros and Cons, yet the consequences are equally unappealing no matter what Joey chooses.
As intriguing as it is for morally minded audiences to watch Joey wrestle with regret against the threat of his brother¡¯s retaliatory rage, viewers who aren¡¯t enthralled with the premise or its portrayal may find themselves unmoved. ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul¡± initially puts its plot on the stove for a slow simmer, not to explode into a boil. For every person content to wait out the clock on Joey¡¯s unusual coming-of-age countdown, someone else will wish for more concrete suspense.
Neither party finds full satisfaction however because at the halfway point, ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul¡± folds in a wrinkle that opens a serendipitous backdoor regarding Joey¡¯s search for a resolution. Joey¡¯s turmoil couldn¡¯t flip and flop forever. But ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul¡¯s¡± story swings into ¡°Hollywood movie¡± mode where deus ex dominos start dropping at a steady clip, significantly ratcheting up stakes at the expense of relative realism going right out the window. Those bored by Joey¡¯s internal conflict get the action they crave. The rest of us are left wondering how much wilder a previously simple idea can get.
Personally speaking, I preferred ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul¡± when it was being a drama over when it was being a thriller. The sacrifices writer/director Alex McAulay makes so his movie can wear both tags undermines the fiction¡¯s integrity. That still leaves ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul¡± in better shape than comparable peers. A small yet skilled cast that includes rising young ¡°It¡± actor Jack Dylan Grazer, the always reliable Rainn Wilson, and newly crowned Queen B(-movie, that is) Mena Suvari does the requisite work to give their characters believable breath. Gloomy Kentucky locations further a Midwestern feel many cookie-cutter films can¡¯t emulate. In short, there¡¯s a lot to like about how ¡°Don¡¯t Tell a Soul¡± goes about its business of DTV indie chills. I just think its solution for a conclusion is more of a convenient copout than a clever twist.
Review Score: 65