Horror/thriller about someone or something targeting those who did nothing when they saw a man being badly assaulted. Preachy, yet still muddled about its message.
I have to confess when I was offered a screener of a new film written by Jeffrey Reddick, creator of Final Destination, and indeed his directorial debut, I had high hopes. I’ll try to avoid that in the future and keep a lid on my expectations. Even though I loved those earlier films, he didn’t owe me anything. Nevertheless, I felt let down with Don’t Look Back.
Don’t Look Back (originally filmed as Good Samaritan, which makes much more sense in the context of the plot) is about what happens when Caitlin (Kourtney Bell) and several others witness a man being beaten up in a park one night. Caitlin is still getting over a trauma of her own but just pulls herself together enough to call the police. No-one else does a thing. The victim dies… and shortly after, some of the witnesses start to die too.
Caitlin is a reasonably well-drawn character, and Bell’s acting carries most of the film. The character of her boyfriend is annoying, though, talking down to her and telling her what to do much of the time (definitely not the support one needs when recovering from a trauma). Everyone else is essentially either cowards or self-centered, and utterly unlikeable, with the possible exception of Detective Boyd (Jeremy Holm) and the street preacher (Dominic ‘Taz’ Alexander).
Don’t Look Back is, unfortunately, a humorless film, serious to the point of tedium. It is not exciting, it is not tense, it is actually predictable; none of which are characteristics I would have expected from the person behind Final Destination. I honestly would have turned it off after twenty or thirty minutes if I hadn’t committed to a review. All through the film, Reddick was wagging his finger at people who stand by and do nothing (except perhaps video events) when a crime is taking place, starting with a montage of (fictitious?) news reports on the subject. Do we really need that? I am sure a film would not change those attitudes.
I am aware Reddick wanted to make a “film that deals with people’s lack of empathy for each other… as well as the themes of guilt, karma, and faith”, but I’m afraid Don’t Look Back was not a success in this regard. Perhaps it was because these themes are too many or too complex for a ninety-ish minute horror. They are all presented through the film, but there is no clear point being made beyond those people should have done something. Hardly any empathy is offered, and when it is, it turns out to be misplaced. Guilt and faith help no-one in this film, and karma is simply twisted. Especially odd is the postscript: having slapped the witnesses’ wrists continually about not acting, we are unexpectedly made to wonder whether they were right not to act, and therefore assuaging their guilt.
What’s particularly odd is the myriad “signs” that Caitlin seems to notice, following the assault in the park. There is no explanation as to what is causing them (I just loved Tony Todd’s mortician character in Final Destination), whether she is imagining things or whether some kind of help is being delivered from above or beyond the grave. I can’t tell you whether this is a film simply about human flaws and passions, or something supernatural.
Still, Kourtney Bell was a great lead, and I’ll happily watch her again. And it was terrific to see Jeremy Holm playing the deadpan Detective Boyd: he brought me right back to The Ranger as soon as I saw him.
Don’t Look Back has its European premiere at FrightFest on 23 October 2020.
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