Don’t Let Go (2019) Movie Review

Don’t Let Go is a 2019 American psychological horror thriller film directed by Jacob Aaron Estes and written by Estes, from a story by Estes and Drew Daywalt. The film stars David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Byron Mann, Mykelti Williamson, and Shinelle Azoroh. Jason Blum serves as a producer through his Blumhouse Productions banner, alongside Bobby Cohen and Oyelowo.

The film premiered under the title Relive at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2019. It was released on August 30, 2019, by OTL Releasing, BH Tilt and Briarcliff Entertainment.

Plot

The movie starts with Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo), a homicide detective, getting a call from his niece Ashley (Storm Reid). Ashley’s father Garrett (Brian Tyree Henry) has forgotten to collect her from the movie theater. Ashley dislikes her father Garrett due to his bipolar disorder and past years of drug abuse. Ashley urges Jack to intervene on her behalf and have a word with her father. The next day Jack receives a phone call from Ashley that comments on how Garrett “got an ear-full” and everything appears to be great. However, a few hours later Jack receives a garbled call from Ashley that indicates that she is in trouble. Jack races to Ashley’s home to find Garrett, Ashley’s mother and Ashley murdered. Garrett is found with a bullet wound to the head and container full of cocaine beside him. It appears to be a murder suicide. Jack blames himself, thinking that his chastising of Garrett sparked this murder-suicide.

Two weeks later, he receives a phone call from Ashley’s phone. Jack calls it back but the number is disconnected. He receives a further call and realises that he somehow can communicate with Ashley in the past. Jack decides to investigate the murder and try and save Ashley. He decides to covertly help her re-arrange events in her life in the hope of preventing the murder-suicide. It quickly becomes apparent that Garrett was not responsible for the attack and in fact, he was a victim along with his family. With the help of Ashley, Jack and his partner Bobby, a fellow homicide detective, they begin to uncover evidence of an underground network of drug dealing cops working for an unknown figure called “Georgie”. Garrett’s old connections to the drug underworld appear to have finally caught up with him.

Bobby informs Jack that Internal Affairs need to meet with him and rule him out of the investigation. Jack meets with the detective in charge, Roger Lee (Byron Mann), who tries to insinuate that Jack was having an affair with Garrett’s wife and that Jack somehow murdered the family. Jack is insulted by the accusations, mocking Roger and then leaving.

Later, following another call with Ashley, Jack identifies a car seen near the house that belongs to Roger. He reports his suspicions to Bobby who indicates that Roger may be the infamous Georgie or at least working for him. Jack is then wounded investigating the car lock where Roger’s car is hit. While wounded, he receives another call from Ashley and gets her to change her past. In the future Jack collapses and appears to bleed out, though not before telling Ashley to call the police on her father, due to his apparent drug abuse. She does so, and in changing the past, she also changes the future, and Jack is never shot. However, the date of the murder ends up being a day earlier (and the day Ashley is currently in). She also finds Georgie’s hideout, but is forced to flee when one of the men there spots her. She manages to escape, but loses her backpack in the process. She then calls Jack, and he tells her the truth about their circumstances, and urges her to flee from town in order to survive; she agrees. Jack then approaches Bobby and their chief Howard (Alfred Molina) with the evidence they have uncovered, realising that Georgie wasn’t a person; it was a group of multiple people, which is why he was never found. Howard escorts Jack and Bobby to a secure location where they are to meet an FBI agent. However, Bobby suddenly turns on Jack and shoots Howard dead. Jack tries to flee but is wounded in the leg and falls to the ground.

Meanwhile, instead of running away, Ashley calls Bobby and asks him for a ride home. As a result, when they arrive, he confronts Garrett with a shotgun, demanding to know why Garrett never left town when he promised (Bobby had instructed them to do so in an effort to protect them). He also interrogates Ashley as to how she had found Georgie’s hideout, since he has found Ashley’s backpack. Garrett tries to reason with Bobby, but he shoots Garrett and his wife dead. Bobby chases Ashley, who, thanks to Jack’s insights from the future, manages to escape. In the present, Bobby demands to know who Jack’s witness is. Jack discloses it is Ashley from the past, with Bobby not believing him. Ashley then calls Jack, which distresses Bobby, and he shoots Jack in the hand, destroying his phone in the process. Ashley makes her way to Jack’s house just as Bobby arrives. She alerts Jack to Bobby, who, upon seeing his partner acting strangely and dangerously, shoots Bobby to save Ashley. This saves the future Jack, though also erases him from existence. In the past, Jack comforts a tearful Ashley.

My Personal Thoughts

Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo), a cop living and working in Los Angeles, has a close relationship with his niece Ashley (Storm Reid). Ashley’s father Garrett (Jack’s brother) is a screw-up, and Jack and Ashley talk about this with the frankness of well-trod ground. There’s a sweet scene in a diner the two frequent, where they do a drawing-game together. There’s darkness on the edge, though, a darkness threatening Ashley’s world. Ashley is hopeful her dad is now on the right path. Jack is not so sure. His fears are more than justified when, after a disturbing call from Ashley, he discovers Garrett, Ashley’s mom, and Ashley, brutally murdered in their home. 

The investigation suggests a murder-suicide, but Jack, overcome by grief, is sure it is something more. Then one day, Jack’s phone rings. It’s Ashley. At first he thinks he’s losing his mind, but Jack slowly accepts the supernatural, and when he figures out that Ashley is calling him from two weeks ago, uncle and niece band together, on separate time-lines, to try to discover who was responsible for the murders. And maybe, Jack hopes, they can reverse time. Maybe Ashley can be saved.

This is all really fun, calling to mind “Frequency” (which I saw solely on the basis of Roger Ebert’s review), where a son (Jim Caviezel) is able to talk to his dead father (Dennis Quaid) over an old ham radio. While “Frequency” also had plot-driven elements—the son wants to go back and undo his dad’s death—its main focus was the relationship. The film tapped into the intense yearning of a son wanting to talk to his dad, wishing his dad could see the man he’s become. “Don’t Let Go,” with its race-against-time crunch, ignores these deeper emotional issues, and is instead pulled into a standard dirty-cop drug-bust shady-characters-in-warehouses plot. Leaping back and forth between Jack’s timeline and Ashley’s leads to some confusing moments, and details which should have been hammered home early in order to get the payoff (why was Ashley’s backpack wet, and who is this “Georgie” person again?) are lost in the over-complicated shuffle. The best scenes are when Jack and Ashley confirm the time-travel-glitch by sending “messages” to each other, and then figure out innovative ways to communicate. These sequences have real urgency and emotion. 

Oyelowo (“Interstellar,” “Selma,” “Queen of Katwe,” PBS’ “Les Miserables”) almost single-handedly grounds the film in a sense of necessary reality. There’s one moment, after an early call with Ashley, when he starts laughing, in fear that he’s going crazy and disbelief at the absurdity of the situation. Such a plausible reaction! Storm Reid (“Wrinkle in Time”) is an indomitable figure, wildly pedaling her bike through her neighborhood, but it’s her vulnerability that makes the performance, her bravery but also her devastation and fear. The challenge here is that except for a couple of scenes, Oyelowo and Reid are not onscreen together. They are voices coming through each others’ phones. It’s a credit to both actors that these scenes work as well as they do. 

I will rate this movie 6/10.

Directed byJacob Aaron Estes
Produced by Jason Blum Bobby Cohen David Oyelowo
Screenplay byJacob Aaron Estes
Story by Jacob Aaron Estes Drew Daywalt
Starring David Oyelowo Storm Reid Byron Mann Mykelti Williamson
Music byEthan Gold
CinematographySharone Meir
Edited by Scott D. Hanson Billy Fox
Production
company
Blumhouse Productions Briarcliff Entertainment
Distributed by OTL Releasing BH Tilt
Release date January 27, 2019 (Sundance) August 30, 2019 (United States)
Running time107 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$5 million
Box office$5.3 million

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