Spoiler-Free Review: ‘Don’t Let Go’ is a Thriller with Heart
Written and directed by Jacob Estes, Don’t Let Go tells the story of Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo), a straight-laced detective who looks out for his niece Ashley (Storm Reid). When a violent tragedy occurs that leaves Ashley and her parents, Garrett (Brian Tyree Henry) and Susan (Shinelle Azoroh) dead, Jack is left to mourn and try to make sense of it all. And then his phone rings. It’s Ashley. Torn between thinking that he’s lost his mind and the need to keep Ashley (even the ghost of her) with him, Jack looks at their death with new eyes and tries to solve the mystery of what really happened. When he discovers that the voice on the phone belongs to a past version of Ashley, Jack attempts to change history and save his family’s lives. One part family drama, and two parts supernatural thriller, Don’t Let Go is a tightly paced genre film that provides a refreshing (and less monster driven) addition to Blumhouse Productions retinue of horror and gore.
Oyelowo and Reid lead the way with stellar performances as the ill-fated uncle and niece. Their onscreen rapport is palpable, and Reid in particular radiates charm. Oyelowo delivers a heartbreakingly stoic performance – at times desperate, confident, and even catatonic. The way he moves through processing the overwhelming grief of losing his entire family and his frantic determination to change the past and save them will echo within anyone who has lost a loved one and longed for the chance to go back and undo it. The rest of the ensemble is equally strong. Mykelti Williamson as Bobby, Jack’s partner, oozes with an almost menacing charisma, and as the mystery unfolds, his performance peels back like an onion, revealing the bitter, raw man beneath. Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta’s very own Paperboi) is engrossing as Ashley’s troubled yet loving father and Alfred Molina brings his well polished and potentially sinister smile to the role of Howard, Jack’s commanding officer at the precinct.
Running an hour and forty three minutes, it feels well paced, leaving moments to languish in the emotional turmoil left in the fall out of the tragedy and then picking back up in frenetic chase scenes. And while the central gimmick of the plot has been compared to Frequency, tonally the two films feel worlds apart. There is an urgency driving Don’t Let Go, a feeling of immediacy and pressure that the former film lacks. (But also maybe I’m biased because so much of Frequency was spent on two white men talking about baseball that I fell asleep during it. Sorry Dennis Quaid!) And while some of the “twists” might not be surprising, they do feel earned and are extremely satisfying. One in particular leads to a gut punch of scene, that exposes often overlooked issues of trust, intimacy, and the deep emotional bonds of male friendships.
At its core, Don’t Let Go is a story about how we cope with grief and trauma. And, to compare it to my last piece on The Boys, (which also explored similar themes, gee I wonder why all of our entertainment right now feels focused on grief and recovery?), where The Boys took an absurdist, even nihilistic, approach on how to cope with loss and violence, Don’t Let Go feels more hopeful. Without spoiling the ending, there’s something to be said about how a story like this reflects on how we, as humans, process grief and persevere. Which is something that feels particularly relevant to 2019 and the chaotic, violent world we live in currently. That even if we don’t have a way (like a special time traveling cell phone) to change the past, or undo the violence and trauma we’ve experienced (on an individual level, and also maybe *cough cough* as a nation *cough cough*), that we can look back and dig deeper. And that digging deeper, noticing the clues and shifts, will provide the perspective we need to move forward and change our futures for the better. And maybe even get a little closure.
Don’t Let Go is in theaters today! And stay tuned for an exclusive interview about the film with writer/director Jacob Estes!