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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Don’t Look Back

My notes on Don’t Look Back

Caitlin Kramer (Courtney Bell) is traumatised after the witnessing her father’s murder during a home invasion (on her birthday) but trying to get her life back on track, with the help of her supportive boyfriend Josh (Skyler Hart).  While jogging in the park, she has a brief encounter with Douglas Helton (Dean J. West), who hands her back her dropped water bottle, then freezes in panic as Helton is attacked and badly beaten by an apparently random assailant (Eric Stratemeier).  Other witnesses similarly fail to intervene, and one whips out his phone to record the incident – though Caitlin does insist on calling the police.  Helton dies and the case becomes a cause celebre, epitomising a recent trend for folks to stand and watch (or video) crimes rather than get involved.  The dead man’s brother Lucas (Will Stout) outs the witnesses on the news, and they become city-wide hate figures … though Caitlin is more concerned by the ominous signs (including a black crow) that suggest supernatural revenge is coming for the small group, and feels especially in the crosshairs when circumstances put her on the scenes of related deaths in the small group of involved parties.

The directorial debut of screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, this has a structural parallel with the Final Destination franchise, which Reddick created, in that a relatively random selection of people are targeted for retribution by the forces of fate or vengeance, though the hinge here is a phenomenon as old as the parable of the good samaritan (the original title of the film) and often discussed in the social media age.  The deck is slightly stacked by the nature of the inciting incident and the heroine’s particular circumstances – the witness who mumbles that he could have taken the assailant but didn’t know if he had a gun and the various don’t-want-to-get-involved types in the small knot of onlookers are held culpable, but one of the (real?) news reports in the introductory montage reminds us that often it’s people who try to break up fights who get killed in these cases.

Quite skillfully, Reddick plants ambiguities early on – obituaries hold the dead man up as a philanthropist and a saint, but his tiny interaction with Caitlin is almost creepy and there’s something odd about the fervour with which his brother takes up his cause.  Bell is terrific as the only really nuanced character, while everyone else is sketchy – which spreads suspicion around the supporting cast.  It segues from serious issues-drama about public shaming to spook story confidently, though that means leaving a lot of interesting and important material undeveloped in order to bring on the scares.

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