'Don't Go': Film Review

Effective atmospherics don't fully compensate for the sluggish storytelling.
10/26/2018

Stephen Dorff and Melissa George play a couple haunted by the death of their young daughter in David Gleeson's supernatural-tinged thriller.

If an actor is going to spend nearly the entire running time of a movie quietly brooding, he better damn well look good doing it. Such is the certainly the case with Stephen Dorff, playing the father of a young girl recently killed in an unfortunate accident. Sporting the requisite stubble and clad in tweedy jackets and sweaters, the actor makes the act of mourning compelling.

Alas, his fine performance, and that of his co-star Melissa George, are the most interesting elements of David Gleeson's supernatural-tinged thriller that is set on the coast of Ireland, where the crashing waves, looming cliffs and near-constant gray clouds provide the perfect atmosphere for this sort of film. Which is important, because foreboding atmosphere is the main thing that Don't Go has going for it.

Dorff and George play Ben and Hazel, who have retreated to a remote Irish village after the death of their daughter Molly (Grace Farrell). The couple plan to renovate an old seaside hotel in the village where Hazel spent her early years. Ben, a writer suffering from a creative block, also takes a job teaching at a local Catholic school where his colleagues include the affable, plain-speaking Father Sean (Simon Delaney, providing welcome moments of comic relief).

Hazel, although still obviously grieving, seems to be moving on with her life. Such is not the case with Ben. He's perpetually haunted by dreams in which his daughter appears, often taking place on the beach where she built a sand castle adorned with a tiny red flag. And he frequently sees examples of the misspelled phrase "Seas the Day," whether it's carved in the sand or inexplicably showing up on his computer screen or classroom bulletin board. He assumes they are messages from his little girl attempting to contact him from the afterlife. His angst is partly caused, we eventually learn, by his guilt over being indirectly responsible for his little girl's accidental death.

The screenplay co-written by the director and Ronan Blaney goes off on some interesting tangents. There's the hovering presence of Hazel's old college friend Serena (Aoibhinn McGinnity), whose illicit habits haven't abated with the passage of time. And Ben confiscates some pot from one of his students and, instead of turning it in, enjoys getting thoroughly baked with the two women. But the narrative feels repetitive and lacking in momentum, not to mention unsubtle. We learn, for instance, that the title of Ben's only book is The Reality Delusion, which even for this sort of hokey thriller is rather too on the nose.

The main problem, however, is the film's conclusion, which traffics in the sort of twisty reveal that has become all the rage in the post-Sixth Sense era. This one, although admittedly clever, feels particularly gimmicky and unearned, undercutting everything that has preceded it without being satisfying on its own terms. It does, however, at least finally provide the answer to the question of why the English translation of the familiar Latin phrase is consistently incorrect.

For all its effective atmospherics and performances, Don't Go has an inevitably familiar feel. Like the similarly titled classic Don't Look Now, it deals with a couple who travel to an exotic location after the death of a child. These films mainly seem to be imparting the message that if tragedy strikes, stay close to home. It's safer.

Production companies: Wide Eye Films, Amasia Entertainment
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Melissa George, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Simon Delaney, Charlotte Bradley, Luke Griffin
Director: David Gleeson
Screenwriters: David Gleeson, Ronan Blaney
Producer: Nathalie Lichtenthaeler
Executive producers: Stephen Dorff, Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant
Director of photography: James Mather
Production designer: Tracy O'Hanlon
Editor: Isobel Stephenson
Composer: Ferry Corsten
Costume designer: Grania Preston
Casting: Louise Kiely

92 minutes