Cinematic Releases: Don't Let Go (2019) - Reviewed

The dumping ground month, i.e. that time of year when studios clear out the clutter from their shelves and wash their hands of movies sure to lose money, usually happens in the winter from January through March.  For it to happen at the end of summer is a most unusual occurrence yet here we are with the latest BlumHouse production, Don’t Let Go, a well-acted and shot crime thriller that becomes a Frequency clone and jumps more flaming cartwheeling sharks than any other time-traveling movie in recent memory.  

From the once solid Jacob Aaron Estes who made one Hell of an impression with his still great 2004 juvenile crime drama Mean Creek, Don’t Let Go (formerly titled Relive, always a warning sign of a troubled production) represents something of a fall from grace for this writer-director.  Unlike, say, Captivity, which had a name like Roland Joffe attached to it despite the execrable end result, the fault of the problems dogging Don’t Let Go are entirely of Estes’ doing.  It’s a shame because there is indeed some genuine talent involved in this frankly embarrassing misfire. 

The story starts out initially as a crime drama involving Detective Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo of Selma and A United Kingdom) who comes home one night to find his brother’s family and niece Ashley (Storm Reid of A Wrinkle in Time) murdered…or so it seems?  Soon however he starts receiving mysterious phone calls apparently from the deceased Ashley and begins to wonder if he’s losing his mind, if he’s speaking to a ghost or if he’s a doppelganger in some kind of barely-explained paradox in the space time continuum. 

Despite time-travel being an age-old science-fiction thriller concept and regardless of the talent involved including but not limited to Alfred Molina and Mykelti Williamson, the rules of the film are underdeveloped when they aren’t downright silly.  Most of Don’t Let Go consists of the film’s hero frantically shouting into a cellular phone, getting shot and pressing on without medical attention ala Whiplash and rifling through old evidence which never adds up but Detective Jack Radcliff seems rather serious about.

The good thing is that the performances don’t suffer from the weight of the absurd logic of the story, with David Oyelowo and Mykelti Williamson always turning over solid performances and the young Storm Reid also holds her own in a number of chase scenes of peril.  Visually its generally a handsomely shot widescreen picture thanks to cinematographer Sharone Meir though the shaky camerawork at times will make the likes of Lars Von Trier blush.  The film also boasts a suspenseful original score by Ethan Gold.  Technically speaking, Don’t Let Go succeeds where the story and script by Estes tragically slip on a banana peel rendering the filmmaking and acting efforts null and void. 

One of the more ridiculous theatrical films of 2019 and misuse of talented acting, Don’t Let Go at least proves a gifted filmmaker can and often is the real culprit in a film’s failure.  The film should work with the quality of the pieces aligned but with an undercooked script it can be all for naught.  That said I can still watch and enjoy Mean Creek as a somewhat more user friendly spin on Larry Clark’s Bully.  In fact I may rewatch it this weekend so I can purge this director’s most recent misbegotten dud from my memory banks. 

- Andrew Kotwicki