Don't Look Back


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Don't Look Back
"Bell...brims with confidence and keeps her character believable even when the story loses its grip."

When a stranger is in trouble, the majority of untrained people just stand around and watch, uncertain what to do. This s a well documented phenomenon going right back through the ages, with straightforward psychological explanations, but society is constantly coming up with new ways to blame people for it. In recent years outrage has often focused on bystanders filming events on their phones. This is what Caitlin (Kourtney Bell) finds herself caught up in when she's out jogging in the park one day and witnesses a man being attacked. As if that weren't unsettling enough in itself, the bystanders subsequently start being picked off, one by one.

Caitlin is no stranger to trauma; in a prequel we see the home invasion that robbed her of her father and - for a few minutes - of her life. Perhaps it's the latter experience that leaves her strangely sensitive to the supernatural. She still suffers from hallucinations and sometimes they seem to have meaningful content. This might account for the strange coincidences whereby she keeps finding herself nearby when her fellow witnesses die. The detective investigating the deaths, however, has other ideas about that.

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Don't Look Back starts strongly but, sadly, does not sustain the pace, losing itself in its own twists and turns en route to a weak ending. There's good material here but it needed to be pruned more aggressively at the script stage. It does, however, feature an impressive lead performance. Aside from a brief appearance in It Follows, this is Bell's first feature film work, but she brims with confidence and keeps her character believable even when the story loses its grip. One doesn't just want Caitlin to live, one wants her to get a break from all the chaos around her, yet she carries us with her as she plunges headlong into it, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery herself.

Alongside this, there's interesting interaction between Caitlin and her boyfriend, whose protectiveness - understandable in light of her past trauma - sometimes spills over into possessive, controlling behaviour, to the point where one might wonder if he has a connection to the violent events we've seen. This feeds into a noirish atmosphere which helps to align the viewer with the heroine's self-doubt and ensures that we remain aware of her vulnerability even when she's at her most assertive.

Although the film ultimately gives way to familiar thriller/horror tropes, it'sat its strongest when exploring the social horror and discomfort that occurs when life doesn't fit into familiar frames and we flail around trying to find the right way to respond. Echoing the uncertainty that we see during the attack in the park is the awkwardness amongst the other witnesses when Caitlin asks if they have experienced visions, and her struggle to work out how to behave around the park attack victim's brother. This adds much-needed depth to the story and makes the film more than just a one idea wonder. It may not achieve all its ambitions but it's worth a watch.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2020
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Don't Look Back packshot
A young woman trying to overcome her traumatic past is walking through the park one day she sees a man brutally assaulted while passers-by stop to film it on their phones. Later, one by one, the witnesses fall prey to someone or something seeking revenge.

Director: Jeffrey Reddick

Writer: Jeffrey Reddick

Starring: Kourtney Bell, Will Stout, Skyler Hart, Jeffrey Holm

Year: 90

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


Frightfest 2020

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