Don't Let Go (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Formerly known as Relive, Jacob Estes’ Don’t Let Go arrives amid some buzz generated at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
From a talent perspective, this has an impressive cast, including David Oyelowo and Storm Reid in leading roles.
The mixing of genres - Police procedural, supernatural thriller, mystery, science-fiction - lends itself to an ambitious idea for the film which could appeal to fans of all of those individual genres.
Spins off its axis in crucial moments, telegraphing much of the twists and turns it deploys near the end.
Oyelowo and Reid do their best, but the film becomes a pulpy mess, once you talk it out and consider all it puts in front of you.
This feels like something that you would find late at night on a cable movie channel, when you really can’t sleep and just need something on in the room.
Originally titled Relive when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2019, Don’t Let Go sets up a solid enough premise.
Jack (David Oyelowo) serves as a father-figure of sorts to his 11-year-old niece, Ashley (Storm Reid), only to find her and her family murdered in their home after a bizarre cell phone call from her. Then, a few days later, while investigating the crime scene, Jack recovers Ashley’s cell phone, only to receive a call from it. Freaking out and unable to speak, he hangs up.
Then another call comes. And another. And once he engages, he realizes that Ashley’s calls and conversations are coming from days prior to her murder, while Jack remains in present-day.
From here, writer/director Jacob Estes (Mean Creek) takes his movie down all the paths. Elements of science-fiction, suspense, mystery, and a good-ole fashioned police procedural are added to this aggregate-style of a screenplay he has put together. And despite having lots of the right flavors in place, when he mixes everything together, something’s off in the final tasting. Under any title, this all just leaves a lingering, bad taste in your mouth the longer and longer you chew on it.
Oyelowo is doing his best to elevate what really amounts to little more than B-movie material. Reid, who delivered a breakout performance in 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time, again shows impressive acting chops, though she looks far too old to be playing her cinematic age here.
In reality though, the film’s major problems germinate around them.
For example, a major twist revealed late in the film is actually quite obvious within the film’s opening minutes. In a makeshift, round table discussion with several critics after our screening, we were all confused, in varying degrees, on what actually was happening here.
To be more precise, Don’t Let Go feels self-satisfied with its own ideas. There are some good concepts here, but nothing is ever really created with them.
Essentially, Jack and Ashley become a de facto investigative team, which leads to moments where Jack blacks out and the screen pulsates for some science-fiction melodrama. In other scenes, a man chasing Ashley seems to have range and ability of something supernatural. He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere? How?!?
And because all police procedurals have to have this subplot when a cop is directly affected by tragedy, the police chief (Alfred Molina), and Jack’s partner Bobby (Mykelti Williamson), badger Jack to move on, step aside, and let the department handle the investigation.
Cut to Jack, adding notes and images from the case to a makeshift wall of evidence he is secretly keeping in his home.
With all the machinations Estes throws at us, audiences will have likely solved everything well before Jack determines what’s exactly happening. Complicating our enjoyment, a distracting, obtrusive score from Ethan Gold, which fails to fit the context of the despair Jack feels with the situations he finds himself in. Unfortunately, editors Billy Fox and Scott D. Hanson may have either had the final cut taken from them, or just become some frustrated themselves that they threw up their hands and tried to piece this together the best way they could.
Time and effort on this project really amount to little more than an unfortunate mess. Cell phones are a key part of the story, yet I do not recall Jack and Ashley ever texting once her calls from the past become reality. Taking and sending photos would have been helpful, tracing Ashley’s calls would have undoubtedly helped the investigation.
Full of ideas and concepts, Estes just never commits to them. As a result, Don’t Let Go spins its wheels, but never goes anywhere meaningful at all.
CAST & CREW
Starring: David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, Brian Tyree Henry, Byron Mann, Shinelle Azoroh.
Director: Jacob Estes
Written by: Jacob Estes (screenplay); Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt (story)
Release Date: August 30, 2019