31 Days to Scare ~ Don’t Look Back

The Facts

Synopsis: When a young woman overcoming her traumatic past is among several witnesses who see a man fatally assaulted and don’t intervene, they find themselves targeted by someone, or something, out for revenge.

Stars: Kourtney Bell, Bryan Batt, Will Stout, Skyler Hart, Jeremy Holm, Jaqueline Fleming, Amanda Grace Benitez, Damon Lipari, Han Soto, Dean J. West, Stephen Twardokus

Director: Jeffrey Reddick

Rated: R

Running Length: 83 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m pretty sure that at one time or another all of us have been driving down the street and seen a person on the side of the road with car trouble or stuck with a flat and considered stopping to help.  We’d want someone to do the same for us, right?  So why not be that good Samaritan and pull over to assist and earn that good karma for the universe to remember us the next time we’re in a bind?  I hate to say it but maybe it’s just because we’ve seen so many horror films where people who begin as innocent bystanders are the ones that end up on the slab.  That’s likely why we watch but don’t stop, how we prefer to pull our camera out instead of rush in to break up a fight, why we pretend we don’t see what’s happening right in front of our eyes.

That’s a premise writer/director Jeffrey Reddick plays with in the new indie horror film Don’t Look Back (originally titled Good Samaritan, still not great but better than what they landed on) which makes the price of indifference a deadly cost for a group of strangers that witness a brutal beating that results in the death of a seemingly innocent man.  After witnessing the event, members of the group beginning meeting suspiciously strange ends, suggesting someone (or something) is after them — like a spiritual morality death squad out to prove a point.  One of those screeners that comes your way with no real expectation attached to it, Don’t Look Back may have some creaky constructs, obvious limitations in filming schedule and locations, and gets off to a decidedly bad start but it rebounds nicely, becoming a nice little nugget of a watch.  It may not fit the bill for your main attraction but it will definitely do for an afternoon watch.

Just getting back on her feet after an act of violence left her near-death, Caitlin (Kourtney Bell, It Follows) has a supportive boyfriend (Skyler Hart) and a comfortable residence in a nice neighborhood.  Out for a jog, she’s one of several eye-witnesses to a man being brutally attacked and left for dead and no-one, including her, steps in to pull the assailant off of the defenseless individual.  Considering her recent personal history with violence, you can almost excuse Caitlin’s frozen fear while watching the events unfold but the others all have their own rationale to why they didn’t intervene.  That doesn’t make a difference to the outraged brother (Will Stout) of the victim who eventually dies from his injuries.   Thinking he has no other way to punish them, he releases the names of the onlookers to the media, fueling retribution to them on a personal and professional level from the public.
That’s when then they start to die off in mysterious ways and it’s here where the film gets to more interesting material while at the same time becoming oddly less interesting.  Before this, Reddick was getting somewhere with his look into our becoming a culture that sits on the sidelines instead of taking action but once it becomes a standard horror film it loses some of that edge. The whole dwindling group hunted by an unseen force set-up feels familiar, especially with Reddick’s name attached because he provided the story and co-wrote the screenplay for the first Final Destination film which had a similar way of offing its cast.  Don’t Look Back doesn’t have that earlier film’s budget, though, so the kills are fairly bloodless and gore-free which might satisfy those that came to this for a mystery first, horror second.
Expanding on an earlier short film of his, I would have liked to see what the original version looked like to see what was beefed up for the run time.  Eventually, Reddick has to look forward to a finale that, while it is executed well and makes good on filling in some plot holes created earlier, ultimately doesn’t quite set his film that much apart from other revenge horror flicks in its resolution.  Where it does find some footing is with its mostly respectable performances (Bell is a standout lead while others are…not so much), a handful of scares that don’t push too hard to be effective, and a late-breaking wrinkle that sends a well-plotted ripple right when you least expected the film to have another trick up it sleeve, Don’t Look Back may not rack up the points for originality but it does gather them for keeping you on your toes.