Don’t Let Go | Jacob Estes | August 30, 2019
In Don’t Let Go, the latest film from writer-director Jacob Estes, Detective Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) shares a close bond with his niece Ashley (A Wrinkle in Time‘s Storm Reid), due to frequent disappointments from her parents – mainly her father, Garret (Brian Tyree Henry), who has some history with the law. Estes quickly establishes these dynamics during the early moments of the film and just as quickly sets the main plot into motion when Jack gets a strange concerning call from Ashley and upon arrival at their home finds his beloved niece and her parents brutally murdered.
This is a tough pill to swallow but things get even crazier for Jack when following the funeral he gets phone calls from his dead niece. At first, he thinks its a part of his trauma following the incident, as does his partner Bobby (Mykelti Williamson) and their boss Howard (Alfred Molina). Only the calls keep coming and the Ashley on the other line is very much alive. Just exactly where she is calling from and how is a part of the discovery of the screenplay.
There are elements of the supernatural/fantasy, time travel, mystery-thriller all rolled up into one, very mixed bag. As it usually goes with a screenplay involving some sense of fantasy/the supernatural/potential time travel, it all becomes slightly more easy to swallow if you don’t overthink things. But it’s hard not to ponder upon some of the rules that Don’t Let Go sets up, or more so, the lack of them. You just have to go with it, but even so, it ultimately leaves you with a lot more questions than answers.
What keeps it afloat is the leading performance from Oyelowo and the supporting turn from Reid. Oyelowo gives his all with what’s in the script, ultimately raising the bar for what would have likely been a flat performance in the hands of a less capable actor. Reid continues her strong year following her supporting turn in HBO’s Euphoria this summer and proves here that she has plenty of dramatic chops, making her an emerging young actor to keep an eye on.
Don’t Let Go has plenty of familiar aspects but doesn’t do a good enough job with the rules of engagement or how everything unfolds in the way that it does. It’s the performances that act as the glue and elevate this material, which is yet another end-of-August release – never a good sign. With so many supernatural thrillers, some creative camerawork or framing can go a long way, but cinematographer Sharone Meir blocks it all in a less than thrilling fashion that comes off as rather flat and stiff, not doing much to hide the film’s noticeably small production budget.
Ultimately, Don’t Let Go resorts to hoping that you just go along with the plot as it unfolds and hopes that you don’t pick it apart too much. The problem is it doesn’t let it the puzzle unfold in a unique or memorable fashion that stands out, and it doesn’t have any levity or fun with its premise or carry the narrative weight to take it more seriously.