Don’t Let Go, co-written and directed by Jacob Estes, is a new supernatural crime thriller with a mind-bending premise. However, a cool idea can only go so far, and apart from some phenomenal performances, this ends up feeling quite like a long and bloated episode of The Twilight Zone.
The core premise of this film revolves around a detective in the present receiving a phone call from his now-deceased niece in the past, allowing him the opportunity to prevent her murder. Although never fully explained, the idea of this interdimensional communication is an intriguing one and puts an interesting spin on the time travel trope common to sci-fi cinema.
Unfortunately, this concept is wasted on a bland and predictable procedural story whose attempts at mystery play off as more silly than perplexing. From the beginning of the movie, it is easy to tell where the arc is heading, and while the place that it ends is ultimately satisfying, the journey it takes to get there is sadly devoid of thrills.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that it takes too long to get going. The main portion of the story, in which the protagonist and his niece work together in order to solve her murder, doesn’t occur until about an hour into the movie. As such, a majority of the first hour is character development and world-building that could have been done just as effectively in half the time.
That said, the film does an excellent job of making us care for the characters and their outcome in the story. The protagonist, played by David Oyelowo (Selma), has a complex arc that is filled with emotion. His struggles with grief are front-and-center, but the more interesting part of the movie is the more subtle subplot involving the clash between his love for his brother, his desire to protect his niece, and his obligation to the law.
Oyelowo’s lead performance is great. Though it doesn’t rank among his best work, he does bring a ton of emotion to the role and elevates it beyond the status of the average genre picture. His chemistry with Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time), who gives a very good performance herself, is phenomenal. Those early scenes in which they share the screen build the dynamic which allows the later portion of the film, in which they are apart, to work.
On a technical level, the movie is a tad messy to an extent that is almost distracting. Consistency is key in making the audience buy into sci-fi, and this film falls short in that department. At certain points in the movie, when something is changing in the timeline, the image becomes shaky and distorted. Yet there are other instances in which this doesn’t happen, or at least isn’t as noticeable. The film could have been significantly more immersive had it stuck to one set of rules.
Don’t Let Go has an interesting concept and a great cast, but it is sadly underwhelming because of a by-the-numbers story and uneven execution. Though there are certainly worse movies you could see this Labor Day weekend, there is a reason why this is a Labor Day release.
Don’t Let Go opens in theaters on August 30.