Don’t Look Back is an odd film as the filmmaker tries to have it both ways a a supernatural thriller and a standard slasher resulting in a compromised film that doesn’t succeed on either front.
Director/Screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick knows how to craft an effective thriller. Reddick created and wrote the first two Final Destination films, which have been some of the better horror/thrillers in the last two decades. If you’ve seen part 2, do you find yourself lingering too long behind a log truck on the highway? Reddick follows his own blueprint with Don’t Look Back as one incident links several strangers who find themselves fighting for their lives.
One of the immediate encouraging signs of the film is it stars a black lead. That’s a rarity for this genre, which Reddick noted in several interviews promoting the film. It doesn’t take a special skill for someone to scream and run around in a tank top.
Caitlin (Kourtney Bell) is still coping with a home invasion that led to the death of a close family member when she experiences another traumatic moment. This time it’s when she’s taking a run through a park when a stranger, Douglas Helton (Dean J. West), she randomly encounters gets savagely beaten to death. Caitlin isn’t alone as several bystanders observe the beating and decide not to do anything.
A core plot point for Don’t Look Back is the modern trend of Bad Samaritans. Those who would prefer to record terrible events on their cell phones instead of doing anything to help someone in need. Reddick probably goes a little too far trying to indict those inactive passersby including a ranting TV talk show host (Rainn Wilson) condemning them. That’s a conviction that needed to be subtle so viewers could reach that conclusion on their own without various characters drilling it in. And if viral videos teach us anything it’s certainly not that people are bashful about staying on the sidelines and especially not feeling remorseful about it.
Caitlin thinks she’s going crazy as she’s starting to have hallucinations of a mangled and bloody Douglas. Good thing her supportive boyfriend, Josh (Skylar Hart), is always on hand to be a sounding board and listening ear. But when the other bystanders start popping up dead at the same time as Douglas’ death, Caitlin starts to worry if her visions aren’t signifying something far more sinister.
There is a definite Final Destination vibe at play especially when Caitlin starts meeting with the other bystanders to talk about their shared visions. This is where Reddick finds himself at a fork in the road. He can either lean harder on this unexplainable supernatural angle teased with the ever-present crow or flesh out the slasher film.
The arrival of Douglas’ brother, Lucas (Will Stout, Daredevil), seems to suggest the latter as he is stoking the public opinions flame against those who stood by and just watched his brother get killed. Of course if this was a whodunit mystery, Lucas would be too likely/the only possible suspect making him a terrible option.
It’s unfortunate Reddick won’t choose a lane as the film gradually unravels trying to juggle both possibilities with a surplus of cheap jump scares mixed with some foreshadowing that something more is at play.
Reddick gets the thriller genre and has a good comprehension on setting scenes even if the payoffs lack much surprise. Teasing various potential suspects doesn’t work as it goes against just basic common sense and Reddick doesn’t develop the side characters enough to arouse much doubt to their true motivation.
Bell is solid in the lead role and she delivers her lines with more credibility and conviction than you’ll see in the typical horror thriller. The rest of the supporting cast is fine even if Hart tends to play Josh a little too shifty for no reason.
There’s a bit of a twist at the end, but also raises a lot more questions that’s best left unanswered at that point. Maybe Reddick thought the film needed some hook or a gotcha! spin to throw viewers off. It doesn’t work, which feels like a statement true of the entire film.
Hopefully Reddick has more thrillers with horror elements in the works. He’s got the pedigree to be a modern force in the genre provided he avoids trying to do it all in every film.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Gravitas Venues