19 May 2024

Arrow FrightFest October Digital Event – Film Review – Don’t Look Back (2020)

Caitlin Kramer is having a rough time of it even by the universally debilitating standards of modern life in 2020. Her father has been shot to death in front of her in an attack that left her legally dead for a number of minutes.

Nine months later she is still ravaged by hallucinations and paranoia but is making progress towards recovery. That is until she witnesses a man being beaten to death in her local park. Frozen with understandable fear she does not intervene. Now she, and several other passers-by, are being vilified by the victim’s brother, and society in general, as cowardly bad samaritans.

Her own guilt is eating her up from the inside, but worse is in store as she starts to see and hear the dead man in horrifying visions. 

Director Jeffrey Reddick builds upon his own Final Destination foundations with another creepy tale of fate and destiny involving a chain of consequence. This time around he casts the avenging spirits of retribution in the role of supernatural string-pullers. A sort of zero-tolerance karma police if you will.

Whilst not entirely fair to accuse Don’t Look Back of being derivative, after all, Reddick did kind of invent this kind of thing, it does dip its fingers into a few well-known suggestion boxes. However, he should be commended on attacking the unseen killer schtick from a different angle. An exercise in regurgitating his own time-worn formula must have seemed like a tempting directorial debut strategy. It surely would have ended in a self-parody shit show. Instead, his first film manages to preserve a sense of identity and purpose.

The cast struggle at times with the clunky script but temper the clumsy stretches of exposition and misdirection with some quality performances.

Leading lady Kourtney Bell has a tangible screen presence that keeps Caitlin on the right side of the tracks between annoying and vulnerable. She has a delicate range that safeguards her dignity even when the screenplay descends into pulp pseudo-religious sentimentality. 

Jeremy Holm is good value as the cop investigating the escalating supernatural shenanigans and is fast becoming a reliable genre stalwart. Fresh from his imposing cameo in the superb The Block Island Sound, he uses his impressively sculptured jawline to munch on the scenery whilst looking like he is constantly trying to push a pineapple out of his anus.

Reddick keeps thing simple with a crisp direction style that doesn’t overreach but at the same time doesn’t push any creative boundaries. The production values are midway between independent rusticism and mainstream gloss with a storyline that skids towards the tidy denouement doggedly swerving the yawning plotholes.

Thematically the film’s is stocked with enough pertinent issues to keep it feeling current without beating the audience into bored submission with moralisation. Like many post COVID releases, it gains a free burst of relevance from the undertow of a world that finds our compassion for others under the microscope like never before.

Essentially a supernatural mystery, Don’t Look Back uses horror elements to spice up the tension and stimulate an ambience of off-kilter theatrics. Indeed, there are a few meaty shocks that will catch you off guide. However, there are no truly iconic set pieces that will have you pulling into a layby rather than drive behind a truckload of precariously bound logs.

Riddick shows enough skill and genre passion to make his debut a worthy watch and kudos to him for operating outside of his comfort zone. Having said that, this competent chiller does not have enough horror horsepower under the bonnet to make it a truly memorable thrill ride.

★★★

European Premiere

Supernatural Thriller | USA 2020 | 90 mins | Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures| In Theaters & On Demand on October 16, 2020 | Dir. Jeffrey Reddick | With:  Bryan Batt, Will Stout, Skyler Hart, Jeremy Holm, Jaqueline Fleming, Amanda Grace Benitez, Damon Lipari, Han Soto, Dean J. West and Stephen Twardokus


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