Don’t Look Back is the directorial debut of one Jeffrey Reddick, i.e. the mastermind behind the unstoppable Final Destination series. Although there are thematic similarities here, Reddick is more concerned with real-world horrors rather than fantastical ones. Although his film is, essentially, a morality play masquerading as a horror movie, Reddick consistently plays with our perception throughout so that it’s never quite clear what’s really going on. There are moments when Don’t Look Back flirts with being a slasher, a supernatural movie, a stalker thriller, and even a relationship drama. All things considered, however, it’s pretty damn impressive.
The premise surrounds victims of crime and those who choose to either watch or film violent incidents without intervening (common knowledge suggests you’re not supposed to get involved, but regardless). The movie opens with real-world footage of various violent street incidents during which members of the public are attacked and/or killed while bystanders watch from the sidelines, often capturing the event with their phones, the implication being that if there were more decent people in the world, maybe such horrible things wouldn’t happen so often.
Our heroine, Caitlin (a luminous Kourtney Bell), suffers a traumatic event herself but it’s by way of a violent home invasion, during which her father is killed right in front of her. Skipping almost a year into the future, Caitlin sits with her strangely combative, unsympathetic therapist and discusses how she’s been hallucinating. Clearly, this young woman is suffering from PTSD as well as the physical effects of being pistol-whipped but nevertheless her doctor commends Caitlin’s “miraculous recovery.”
Later, while taking a run in the park Caitlin witnesses a violent crime (the second time in as many months a Black female character in a horror movie has uncovered something dark while out jogging, after Jigsaw), but, after standing alongside everybody else for a few moments, she comes to her senses and calls the police. Unfortunately, after the group of bad Samaritans is revealed to the public by the deceased’s angry brother, a mysterious force begins picking them off one by one and it’s up to Caitlin to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.
The idea that those who witness violent crimes and do nothing to help are somehow complicit in those crimes is a strong one, with horrifying real-life implications, particularly considering how glued we all are to our phones and social media. There are hundreds of sites dedicated to broadcasting the most depraved content, whether it’s snuff videos or CCTV footage of horrifying incidents, and our collective appetite for this kind of morbid content seems to be growing, even if it means holding the police to account, as is the case with the BLM movement.
Don’t Look Back showcases how quickly a situation can change, and how important it is to react compassionately even when you’re scared. Reddick’s viewpoint is often cynical, particularly in the depiction of the grizzled local cop who clearly has no interest in helping Caitlin, even though she clearly feels terrible and in spite of doing nothing wrong (to add another layer, he’s played by Jeremy Holm, The Ranger character in The Ranger). The hate mob elements ring uncomfortably true, but the group at the center of it all isn’t necessarily made up of monsters either, just regular selfish people.
There’s plenty of religious iconography at play here that may feel distancing to certain viewers. Reddick is a proud man of faith himself, so their inclusion makes perfect sense and, to be completely fair, Don’t Look Back makes more of a case for karma than belief in God’s power above all else. The score, however, is a touch hymnal and overused, standing as the only really jarring element of the movie that doesn’t quite fit with the overall tone, which is subdued. With an atmosphere of impending dread this well-crafted, it’s simply not necessary.
Elsewhere, Reddick makes a couple strong, exemplary statements about inclusion, which are clearly close to his heart, the first being, obviously, casting a Black, female lead with natural hair. The cast is predominantly POC while a gay couple is casually included along the way too. The first-time director, who’s surely wanted to get behind the camera for years now, coaxes naturalistic, committed performances out of his cast, keeping a firm grip on the material even as things get more convoluted. Although Don’t Look Back eventually reveals its secrets, the film never goes completely off the rails.
As a horror movie, it boasts plenty of great jump scares, a strong, dread-soaked atmosphere, and an evocative color palette made up almost entirely of greys and blues. A third act game of cat and mouse, which takes place in an under-construction house, is cleverly choreographed, suggesting that with more money Reddick could widen his scope. The specter of Final Destination looms large, but Don’t Look Back is confidently its own thing and Reddick’s voice is clear throughout, the filmmaker having utilized the lessons he learned on the hit franchise to tell his own story. Hopefully he doesn’t have to wait too long to get back in the director’s chair again.
Catch Don’t Look Back in theaters and On Demand from October 16, 2020
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Jeffrey Reddick
Writer(s): Jeffrey Reddick
Stars: Kourtney Bell, Will Stout, Skyler Hart, Jeremy Holm
Release date: October 16, 2020
Studio/Production Company: Hood River Entertainment
Run Time: 90 minutes