[Screen It]


(2019) (David Oyelowo, Storm Reid) (R)

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Sci-Fi/Thriller: Following the murder of his niece and her parents, a detective is startled to receive phone calls from her, seemingly from before she was killed.
Jack Radcliff (DAVID OYELOWO) is a detective with the L.A.P.D. who's quite close to his teenage niece, Ashley (STORM REID), with them talking on the phone at least once a day. Thus, when he receives a garbled call from her and can't subsequently get hold of her, he goes to her house and is shocked by what he finds. And that is the teen, her dad (and Jack's brother), Garrett (BRIAN TYREE HENRY) and his wife, Susan (SHINELLE AZOROH) and even the pet dog murdered.

Jack's fellow cop, Bobby Owens (MYKELTI WILLIAMSON), and their boss, Howard Keleshian (ALRED MOLINA), realize he needs time to process his loss, but it's not long before Jack is trying to figure out the suspected murder-suicide. Things become more complicated when he receives a call seemingly from Ashley, alive and not aware of what's happened.

After more of them, including while in possession of her phone, he has a feeling they're somehow coming from the past before the murders. Once he proves that, he races against time to figure out what really occurred -- including with her help -- before it happens again in her timeline.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
"If only I had..." is a common refrain among parents, spouses, other family members and friends when it comes to knowing a person who's taken their own life or those of others. And when such a person does both, such thoughts that whirl around in the "hindsight is twenty-twenty" realm often wear down the souls and sometimes the sanity of survivors.

Of course, in many such cases the guilt is unwarranted as there are no warning signs indicating what's about to transpire. Even so, most such people wish they had a second chance to prevent such tragedies from occurring.

That's the genesis of the story behind "Don't Let Go," a sci-fi type thriller that involves certain tenets of the time travel genre but without anyone purposefully or actively hopping into an old DeLorean, hitting 88 m.p.h. and hoping for an infusion of 1.21 gigawatts of power to allow the temporal jump to happen.

In the offering from writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes, David Oyelowo appears as Jack Radcliff, an L.A. detective who has a close relationship with his teenage niece, Ashley (Storm Reid). They talk nearly every day, so it's not unusual for him to see her photo adorning his phone to indicate the incoming call is from her.

That is, except for the fact that he's just recently found her and her mother, Susan (Shinelle Azoroh), dead, the victims of an apparent murder-suicide carried out by Ashley's father and Jack's brother, Garrett (Brian Tyree Henry), a drug dealer in the past who's since gone straight.

Jack is shocked by that turn of events, but not as much as the telephone call he receives from Ashley who acts as if nothing has happened. At this point, Estes had plenty of options of where to head following that set-up. With the film being a Blumhouse production (known mainly for their horror flicks), the obvious one would be that it's the girl's spirit contacting her uncle.

Of course, another way to proceed could have been someone trying to mess with Jack's head for some yet-to-be-revealed reason, or maybe the cop's brain just doing that on its own, what with that heavy burden of guilt weighing down on it and causing a break with reality.

Well, the final choice is a schism alright, but one that's of the temporal rather than mental variety. As thus with shades of the Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel talk across time flick "Frequency," the filmmaker opts for the confluence of intersecting timelines. For Jack, he's in the present after the pivotal moment, while Ashley is in the past days before it.

Once he accepts but still doesn't fully understand what's going on, he gets his second chance to circumvent the violent family incident and starts working the case, much to the concern of his work partner, Bobby (Mykelti Williamson), and their boss, Howard (Alfred Molina), who cut him some post-tragedy slack, but become increasingly concerned about his erratic behavior.

He gets an unlikely assistant in his niece who initially isn't aware of her pending death or what her uncle is up to, but helps him as much as possible. What follows is the usual procedural drama as infused with time travel tropes but without some of the related storytelling pitfalls of this genre. And all with a timer counting down to the pivotal moment the cop hopes he can change.

While there's not much new here and with the caveat that I'm a sucker for time travel type movies, I found myself engaged from start to finish, no doubt helped by the strong performances by the leads and the overall whodunit mystery.

It could have used a few more suspects for that and maybe a longer run of playing with the notion that it could all just be happening in the protagonist's head, but what's present works well enough that all involved shouldn't have any post-completion, "If only I had..." thoughts. "Don't Let Go" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed August 26, 2019 / Posted August 30, 2019

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