Time travel stories can be tricky to execute properly. Most time travel tales repeat the same scenarios over and over again and run the risk of boring the audience with repetitive visuals and plot devices. For these reasons, I’ve never been a fan of stories involving time travel. In novels or short stories, the device is fine, as it’s up to the reader to visualize the events of the narrative. However, for a visual medium, the repetition of specific scenes can quickly become redundant and aesthetically bland. I am relieved to say that DON’T LET GO is one of the few films to get it right.
DON’T LET GO is the latest thriller-mystery from writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes. It tells the story of Jack (David Oyelowo), a police officer who loses his niece and brother in an apparent murder-suicide. Not long after the murder, Jack begins receiving mysterious phone calls from his deceased niece Ashley (Storm Reid). At first, Jack believes the calls to be some sort of strange technical glitch, but as the calls increase in frequency, he begins to talk to Ashley, and listen to what she has to say. With each call, Jack realizes that he’s hearing the same conversation he had with Ashley shortly before she was killed. As he relives that phone call and that day, Jack begins to piece together clues and secrets that reveal a darker reality to his family’s deaths.
Through their phone conversations, Jack and Ashley test the boundaries of their parallel timelines through signals and signs they leave for one another. Jack’s ultimate focus turns to protecting and saving his niece while he still has the opportunity, and he believes if one of them can save the other, they’ll both survive their respective timelines. What follows is a heart-pounding thriller with many twists and turns designed to continuously blindside the audience.
This new take on the time travel narrative is mostly effective due to the parallel timelines. Instead of replaying scenes we’ve seen time and time again, we’re given two separate, coinciding plotlines to follow; which helps to avoid the typical monotony that comes with a time-centric story. In the hands of Jacob Aaron Estes, the film is masterfully written and directed. For such a low budget feature, DON’T LET GO sure has the feel and power of a major blockbuster thriller. This is in part due to some amazing performances by the film’s lead cast. David Oyelowo is positively riveting as the heartbroken, desperate detective, and Storm Reid turns in an equally emotionally-charged performance.
Jacob Aaron Estes stylizes the film as both a high-octane thriller and a deep-thinking noir detective film. We feel as if we’re joining Jack on his mission, beside him every step of the way as he finds each clue and new piece of information. Jack’s deteriorating mental state adds to the emotional intensity of the film’s final act, and the finale feels both rewarding and cathartic. Stunning cinematography and a pulsating score complete this film’s recipe for a modern thriller classic. One scene that particularly stands out is the bone-chilling moment when Ashley first calls Jack from beyond the grave. Aaron Estes does an incredible job of making this simple scene as hair-raising as it possibly can be. He places his camera strategically and works around Oyelowo’s performance to build an immense, crushing atmosphere. I found my own pulse racing as Jack answers the phone for the first time. This moment happens several times throughout the film, and it never loses any of its bite.
I was pleasantly surprised by DON’T LET GO, as my bias against time travel films had prepared me for the worst. The movie also restored my faith in little, original genre films retaining the power and drive of a major studio film. These kinds of films are essentially the lifeblood of cinema, and when executed as well as this movie is, you’re reminded why smaller-scale movies are such a breath of fresh air. I was disappointed to see that the critical reception for DON’T LET GO thus far has been middling-to-negative. This review will be my attempt to right that wrong, as these are the type of movies that deserve your time, money, and attention. DON’T LET GO is a well-made, well-paced mystery that doubles down on its concept and wins big for it. I can’t recommend it enough.