Movie Review: Dorff grieves and reasons out a supernatural mystery in “Don’t Go”

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It’s the screen actors who pursue the quixotic that I find the most interesting.

And nobody is more all-over-the-road than Stephen Dorff, the rugged, brooding star of half a dozen movies nobody sees in a given year, with just enough high profile work (“Somewhere,” “The Iceman,” “Leatherface”) to keep him in the public eye as “the younger Kiefer Sutherland.”

“Don’t Go” is an Irish ghost story, more moody than spooky, starring Dorff as a blocked American writer grieving for the daughter he lost months before.

When he’s not staring at the blank screen on his laptop, he’s drunkenly dozing on the beach below the Irish boutique hotel he and wife Hazel (Melissa George) are renovating. There’s this recurring dream he has there, a day when they built a sandcastle with wee Molly (Grace Farrell). He’s sure it means something.

Hearing the words “Seize the day” when he awakens cinches it.

Ben Slater had one well-received book,  “The Reality Delusion,” but they moved to Western Ireland, Hazel’s birthplace, to move into her family hotel and bring it back to life. He’ll teach, she’ll supervise the renovation.

It’s a big, old seaside hostel named “Carrig’s View House,” with halls that echo and views that give you Ireland’s coast in all its grey, overcast glory. And even though everybody says “Moving back home, then?” and “Surely you’ll not be staying here, after what happened in THAT house” at Molly’s funeral, that’s just what they do.

The locals are friendly enough, barmen, colleagues at the Catholic school (Simon Delaney plays the garrulous Father Sean), even contractors.

“A writer? Have I ever heard of ya?”

“Nope. That’s why I teach, now.”

But their dog knows something is up. And Ben, donning his writer’s uniform (turtleneck, tweed blazer) for his classes at Sacred Heart, starts to pick up on it himself.

That recurrent dream presages other clues –in the oddly ordered arrangement of magazine titles, the words scratched in the sand after a seaside nap. It wasn’t “Seize the Day” he heard, it was “Seas the Day.”

Ben instantly assumes these clues are from Molly, because she wasn’t much of a speller, and that there’s a reality where she still lives if only he can reason out the mystery.

Which deepens. Hazel has history here, old beaus. Her college pal, the messed up Serena (Aoibhinn McGinnity) shows up, drunk. 

And don’t expect Father Sean to be much psychological help. He’s not allowed to do exorcisms either, he jokes.

“I’m a contrary bollocks. So was He. That’s why they put Him on a cross.”

Limerick native co-writer/director David Gleeson (“Cowboys & Angels”) ensures we get lots of local color in the people, the scenery and the school and Irish pub life in this story.

And Dorff wears Ben’s grief and guilt like a tailor-made suit. He broods wonderfully, but he lets us see Ben break down as he starts to sense he can change the past and obsesses about how to manage it.

No, he never shaves — not for comedies, villainous turns or grieving fathers. It’s almost always the right look for the part. He landed next year’s “True Detective,” so his profile is about to blow up again.

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The performances and setting combine to pull off “Don’t Go,” a film that eschews frights in favor of remorse, that never hurries even as Ben is realizing that the pun or “child’s spelling” of “seas the day” doesn’t change what he’s being asked to do.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, sex, alcohol abuse, pot, profanity

Cast: Stephen Dorff, Melissa George, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Grace Farrell

Credits:Directed by David Gleeson, script by Ronan BlaneyDavid Gleeson. An IFC Films release.

Running time: 1:32

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