Movie Review: ‘Don’t Look Back’

Do you remember the final episode of Seinfeld? That episode that many people either loved or hated where the main group witnesses a crime, does nothing to stop it, and goes to jail? Well, the writer of Final Destination, Jeffery Reddick (in his feature length directorial debut), has taken that concept and turned it into a far superior horror film. Instead of facing a judge and a year in jail, the bystanders of Don’t Look Back are forced to face karma and a far more fatal punishment. While not as terrifying as Final Destination, Don’t Look Back is a spooky, thrilling, thought provoking tale that merges guilt, karma, faith/religion, “cancel culture”, and old-fashioned revenge.

The film opens, after three minutes of logos and credits, with Caitlin (Kourtney Bell) waking up to investigate a strange noise; naturally, it is a fake scare in the form of her father cooking her breakfast for her birthday. The relief and festivities are short-lived when home invaders enter and kill her father. Cut to nearly a year later, Caitlin is seeing a therapist to deal with his death and also briefly dying herself, trying to get her life back on track, but a walk in the park leads her to witness another tragedy. A man she passes in the park, speaking to for only a few seconds, is suddenly attacked and beaten to death while she and a handful of other bystanders watch (one even pulls out his phone to record the incident).
Despite nobody knowing how they would react in such a case (I would like to think I would jump in to help, but I would probably be frozen like Caitlin; at the very least, I doubt I would start filming), the news and local residents try to shame them for not acting to save the victim. But shame is the least of their worries, as the bystanders start dying one by one (with some people applauding their deaths). While getting caught up in the police investigation(s) of the incident and the subsequent deaths, Caitlin starts having visions/hallucinations that mess with her mind.

There is a lot packed into this 80-minute movie, with enough twists and red herrings to keep the audience guessing. The film tries to explore morality and faith and has some discussion-worthy topics. There are hints that the deaths are caused by a supernatural force, karma perhaps, or guilt. (Spoiler – non-specifics discussion of ending for remainder of this paragraph) However, unlike Final Destination whose “villain” actually was an unseen, largely unstoppable force, Don’t Look Back goes for a more grounded conclusion with a villain that is corporeal, with human motivations (that can be picked apart). The ending(s) nearly detracts from an otherwise intriguing and thrilling premise.

The film is marketed as a horror, though I would put it more in thriller/mystery territory. The actors are respectable and play their parts well. Rainn Wilson is an odd standout (possibly because he is the only person I instantly recognize – and this is not a comedy); he appears as a news anchor for a couple scenes.

In Theaters & On Demand on October 16.

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