A cell phone connection serves as a link between the past and present for a police detective and his dead niece in Don’t Let Go, a new supernatural thriller from Blumhouse Productions that debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It’s a little bit Frequency, a little bit Looper, with a smidgen of good old-fashioned crime drama thrown in for good measure.
(Mild spoilers below.)
The film stars David Oyelowo (Selma) as Detective Jack Radcliff, who looks out for his young niece Ashley (Storm Reid, A Wrinkle in Time, Euphoria). Ashley’s father (and Jack’s brother), Garrett (Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta, Joker), is bipolar with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as the occasional bit of drug running. He’s been on the straight and narrow for several years now, but Jack still gives Ashley a cell phone so she can call him if she needs him—like when her dad forgets to pick her up from the movies after dark. One day Jack gets a panicked phone call from Ashley, and rushes to his brother’s house, only to find Garrett has shot his wife and daughter, and then himself, apparently in the midst of a manic episode. It’s ruled a murder/suicide, but something about the case feels wrong to Jack and he starts poking around, to the annoyance of his boss, Howard (Alfred Molina, Species, Da Vince Code).
At the funeral, Jack tells his LAPD colleague and best friend Bobby (Mykelti Williamson, Con Air, The Purge: Election Year) he prayed for a second chance to fix things. At home alone one night, his phone rings, and the caller ID says it’s Ashley. She’s calling from the past, two weeks before the murders, unaware that she is talking to her Uncle Jack from the future—at least not at first. Jack realizes he has a chance to save Ashley and change the past—possibly saving himself in the process—if he can figure out what really happened that day. And the clock is ticking.
The relationship between Jack and Ashley is the engine that drives the entire film, and Writer/Director Jacob Aaron Estes found the perfect actors to build that engine in Oyelowo and Reid. Oyelowo is best known for playing Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 2014 biopic Selma, garnering numerous awards and nominations for his heartfelt portrayal. He brings that same subdued intensity to Jack, conflicting emotions flowing across his face like water in almost every scene. (Fun fact: Oyelowo is a genuine Nigerian prince, of the kingdom of Awe.) Oyelowo also had a cameo as The It in the 2018 adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, starring Reid as Meg Murray, so Don’t Let Go is a reunion of sorts for the pair. Just 16, Reid has tremendous screen presence, able to hold her own in scenes with much older and far more experienced actors with ease—not an insignificant feat.
Don’t Let Go is not a perfect film. The supporting characters aren’t fully developed, and given the limited cast, it’s not hard to figure out what happened to Ashley and her family as the narrative unfolds. But it has a quiet, understated confidence in its storytelling that is quite appealing, and the plot’s simplicity makes it easier for the film to deftly play with multiple timelines. The final act is genuinely suspenseful, ratcheting up the stakes as the past and present timelines start to converge. Tonally, Don’t Let Go has much in common with Fast Color, another thoughtful, understated gem of a film released earlier this year, starring English actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Black Mirror). I’d like to think there’s still a place in the cinematic ecosystem for these smaller, simpler kinds of films to thrive. Here’s hoping Don’t Let Go finds its audience and proves me right.
Listing image by YouTube/Blumhouse Productions