REVIEW: Don’t Look Back (2020)

dir. Jeffrey Reddick.

Opening with what appears to be a series of real life assaults captured on smart phones Don’t Look Back sets its stall out early: in an age of unparalleled digital recording it is perhaps more common for individuals to film acts of barbarity rather than intervene (alternative title Good Samaritan underscoring this dichotomy between those who act and those who pass by). This emotional disconnect – and the gulf between people – becomes a space that protagonist Caitlin (Kourtney Bell) soon finds herself trapped in when she witnesses an assault, and – immobilised by the memories of a recent trauma – fails to act. When the victim later dies from his injuries Caitlin becomes convinced she is being haunted by his unquiet spirit, and that karma is coming for her to extract a terrible revenge: a belief made all the more strong when other witnesses start to turn up dead.

It’s a fantastic premise, and one which recalls Final Destination (2000) in its smart spin on the slasher sub-genre: a comparison given more weight as director Reddick, making his directorial debut, was also that film’s writer. Unfortunately where Final Destination used its setup as a precis for deliciously inventive kills – framed as coincidental accidents – Don’t Look Back pulls back from the death scenes altogether, Caitlin discovering post-humous crime scenes as the bodies stack up.

Despite these limitations Bell is revelatory: making her leading debut after a series of smaller rolls – including It Follows (2014) – she elevates every scene, exerting the kind of effortless magnetism which surely promises great things to follow. Unfortunately it’s not enough to save the frequently didactic script from hammering worthy themes with a bluntness that leaves little space for nuance or subtilty.

Ultimately the film falls short of what it might have been, though with moments of shock and grace it still acts as a disturbing reminder of the casual sociopathy that social media can engender.

Tim Coleman

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