by Rob DiCristino
Let’s get something out of the way before we begin: Don’t Let Go is a psychological thriller produced by Blumhouse (through its BH Tilt imprint) that stars a predominantly black cast. While writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes is not African-American, and Don’t Let Go is not about race or social justice, it is impossible not to feel Get Out’s shadow looming large over the movie. In fact, the preview screening I attended was presented by a local radio host whose introduction drew heavy parallels between Don’t Let Go and the work of Jordan Peele. The connection is intentional. It’s built into Don’t Let Go’s marketing. I’m reminded of Shudder’s excellent Horror Noir documentary, in which one of the talking heads remarks that he’s seeing more horror projects reworked in development to be “more black” in light of Get Out’s success. I bring this up because (though a movie’s racial profile should be neither here nor there) filmmaking is a business, and it’s hard for the cynical observer not to see Don’t Let Go as one of the earliest examples of “Peelesploitation.” Sadly, it falls short of the genre’s namesake in almost every way.
As good as it all might sound on paper, Don’t Let Go is little more than an overachieving Redbox thriller, one of the dullest, most listless, most mean-spirited entries in the time-traveling-rescue subgenre in recent memory. It’s the kind of story in which the audience is always three steps ahead of the characters, one that never bothers to engage with its supernatural plot mechanics or draw any deeper thematic meaning from its characters’ struggles. There are only so many times an audience can wait for a protagonist to nervously answer a ringing cell phone before we start to wonder why we’re even rooting for them in the first place. Nearly every supporting character is a stock archetype who telegraphs their importance from a mile away (One guy might as well have looked into the camera and said, “I’m here for the twist!”). What’s worse, the relatively tame thriller gets needlessly, graphically violent in the last act, as if we’d suddenly start caring about these characters if they were bleeding, screaming, or calling each other Motherfuckers. It’s all so tacky and sad. The shocks are predictable and cheap. And for those wondering: Yes, they shoot a dog.