Review by Jay Bowman
Don’t Look presents itself as a tribute to slasher films of the genre’s boom period, and with that offers all the expected beats with very little else. There’s blood, there’s nudity, and there’s a masked killer all crammed into a brisk seventy-or-so minute movie. If all you want is to watch characters get killed and almost get laid, Don’t Look has you covered. But if you’d like something that makes sense or, at the very least, you can get invested in, you might have a problem with this one.
Five jerky millennials decide to spend Thanksgiving out in the country. One of them, the secretive Nicole (Lindsay Eschelman) invites the others to her family’s long-empty farmhouse. Their youthful shenanigans run afoul of two over-sexed hillbilly neighbors. A masked man manages to menace both parties with creative acts of murder throughout a long, unpleasant night. It is very true to the slasher films of the 80s, and the 90s, and those of the early 2000s. In fact, I’m pretty sure whatever nostalgia motivated this is misplaced because the type of movie it’s trying to emulate is still regularly made. Oh well.
Don’t Look does make the interesting choice to focus on the two female leads, Nicole and Lorena (Luciana Faulhaber, who also directed) rather than the bros. The intention may have been to make a criticism of how women are depicted in these sorts of films, but it fails to present them any differently than the majority of films that came before it. Lorena, for example, encounters the killer early on. Coincidentally, it’s while she and her boyfriend are playing a bondage game in the neighbor’s animal-slaughter shed. Ignoring all the questions that decision raises, she inevitably finds herself wearing nothing but a bra, panties, and someone’s blood. When she finally frees herself she decides to run around screaming like this until she finds one of her (male) friends who, despite seeing that she’s wearing nothing but a bra, panties, and someone’s blood, doesn’t believe anything dangerous is afoot. In the span of a few minutes we’ve hit “titillating the audience,” “no one believes her,” and “helpless.” Throw in the free space and you’re close to Bingo. While it’s true that Nicole and Lorena don’t rely on their male counterparts to save them (though it may help that two of them die pretty quickly), they aren’t presented as being strong or even particularly courageous when it comes time to outwit the killer, either, at least not until the very end. It’s doesn’t put them on a heroic pedestal so much as it makes the entire group look inept as they scream from one poor decision to the next.
Of course, getting upset by this would be foolish. It is, after all, a slasher film. The genre isn’t exactly known for striking blows for feminism or well-rounded characters in general. But it’s almost startling how many cliches we can hit in such a short time. Likewise, the accelerated pacing makes for some interesting storytelling decisions. We don’t learn much about any of the five’s backgrounds except in very small, sometimes insignificant doses. Even Lorena, whose childhood is central to the events happening to everyone, doesn’t have much of a reason to exist except to set up the events of the movie in a way that asks too many questions and answers none of them. Thankfully, things go crazy around the midway point, so if you’re just in it for the violence then character building never has much of a chance to get in the way of your good time.
And make no mistake about it: everything story-related comes second to visual effects. This is really the film’s strength and what leads me to believe it wants to cater strictly to the blood-and-guts enthusiasts. The butchered animals we see are shot and detailed perfectly to build a creepy atmosphere without beating you over the head with it. While the early kills are almost timidly shown, by the final act everything slick and wet is on full display. The blood, in particular, deserves special notice. The claustrophobic backwoods world props up insane acts of murder well, even if that means there isn’t much in the way of actual sets. Don’t be ashamed of enjoying the gross-yet-beautiful practical effects, because between the uneven acting, the stilted dialog, and the sadly limp double-twist ending, there aren’t many things to bask in once the credits roll.
Don’t Look achieves what it wants without taking the risk of adding anything more substantial to its mix. When I’m watching films like this one—which I enjoy doing, mind you—I have to wonder sometimes if I’m missing the point. Looking to a slasher flick for a story is like looking to a dog for a meow. So why am I hung up about it? Even when you go back and watch the greats of the genre it’s obvious that they weren’t going for riveting storytelling. The first Friday the 13th wasn’t Shakespeare but thrived through suspense and a crazy twist ending. The same could be said for sleep-away Camp. What’s the difference between those movies and Don’t Look? No much, I suppose, besides decades between their release dates. There will always be hangers-on, but I’m ready for something new in the art of killing yuppies with sharp things. Aren’t you?
If you just want violence front and center, Don’t Look delivers quite well. But if you’d like a story or some sense of reason tying all the stabby-slashy together, give this a pass.