Jeffrey Reddick is best known as the creator of the Final Destination franchise. His feature directorial debut DON’T LOOK BACK can’t escape the shadow of those films, recycling themes, and plot points that were fun and compelling in the beloved franchise but fall flat in this new film. Wooden dialogue, jump scares that never actually scare, and a script that heavily endorses a “tell, don’t show” philosophy weigh the story down and leave the viewer wishing they were watching Final Destination instead.
DON’T LOOK BACK starts off with newscasts featuring several violent incidents in which passersby simply ignore people in distress. A pedestrian is hit by a car and then a dozen other vehicles drive right past him bleeding in the street. People stand and record muggings on their cell phones but never attempt to help the victims as they’re being beaten and robbed. Caitlin Kramer (Kourtney Bell), who was recently traumatized by a violent encounter of her own during which her father was shot and killed, becomes one such witness. A man is attacked in the park and no one does anything about it until Caitlin runs over to grab the cell phone of a man recording the attack and calls 911. After the victim dies of his injuries, Caitlin and her fellow bystanders become known as the Bad Samaritans and are turned into pariahs. Then they start to die one by one in mysterious (and possibly ghostly) incidents.
There’s a bizarrely old-fashioned feel to DON’T LOOK BACK. Whenever anything of note happens in the police investigation, every single person in the town is always congregated around a television watching the news unfold. People harass the Bad Samaritans at work and in their neighborhoods. If a case like this did garner so much sustained media attention, there would be Twitter mobs and other social media consequences, not young people glued to news conferences on television sets and former friends literally spitting on the Bad Samaritans in the street.
Each plot point is far too convenient to be plausible or entertaining. The only two people who seem aware of social media in the movie watch the video of the attack on a phone, and one of the characters tells the other one that by a wild coincidence the bystander who took the video lives right above the cafe where they’re drinking coffee. (How they know this is never explained.) Caitlin just so happens to be at that same cafe, and when she overhears the conversation and realizes the connection, the man’s body hurtles to the concrete soon afterward. The script never lets the audience think for itself, preferring to spell things out as much as possible. At one point Caitlin, who is putting together the inane clues about the Bad Samaritans’ deaths, tells her therapist: “I believe that my actions and my choices are coming back to haunt me.”
The word “karma” is uttered countless times just to make sure that the audience understands what’s happening. It’s wrong to watch someone get hurt and do nothing to try to help them, but that sentiment alone doesn’t make for an interesting horror movie. The story beats and symbols will feel far too familiar to fans of Reddick’s earlier work, and the cast struggles to make the uninspired script suspenseful or frightening in the slightest. Frustrating red herrings and an infuriating final twist fail to breathe life into this dull and melodramatic moral tale.
Jeffrey Reddick’s DON’T LOOK BACK is now available in theaters and on-demand.