Movie Review: Survivor’s guilt turns deadly in “Don’t Look Back”

Screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick mainlined something universal with his script, “Final Destination.” A film that launched a franchise, it tapped into that teen tendency to feel immortal and the conspiracy buff in us all that likes to see “coincidences” as part of “death’s grand design.”

Good movie.

Reddick must see something similar in the hook to “Don’t Look Back,” which he wrote and directed, basing it on a short film he made some years back. “Survivor’s remorse” or guilt is a well-documented psychological trauma, and Reddick’s spin on that is a commentary on the culture we’ve become.

These days, you can’t escape assaults and other crimes that fill the evening news, or Youtube — incidents which bystanders, instead of trying to intervene, instead of calling the police, record the assault on their cell phones.

With thuggish goons running rampant this election cycle, it’s become an American epidemic. Reddick is onto something. But applying Reddick’s “Final Destination” “coincidences” and “death’s grand design” supernatural formula to survivor’s guilt doesn’t quite come off.

Kourtney Bell is good if not dazzling in this, her debut as a lead, playing Caitlin, a young woman who survives a brutal home invasion that ends with her badly injured and her father dead.

Months later, still traumatized, she sees a murderous beating in a nearby park (this was filmed in Baton Rouge). Her shocked eyes scan every other face that witnesses this before she grabs a phone from some gutless man taping it and calls the police.

The victim was a local altruist and a righteous dude. Caitlin is appalled at what she didn’t do, mortified that nobody else even managed to call the cops. As she exits the police station, she glimpses the other witnesses, rationalizing away or stricken by their lack of action.

It won’t be long before Caitlin starts seeing the dead man everywhere. She’ll notice the crow hanging around her and others who witnessed the murder. And once she’s spotted the number “27” — a Bible verse from Luke, birthdates, etc. — she can’t stop seeing it.

As the public turns against her and the other eyewitnesses, thanks to a TV talk show host (Rainn Wilson, excellent), Caitlin reaches out to the others just at the moment the crow (harbinger of death) starts making house calls.

Who or what is doing this, and why?

The acting isn’t bad, or particularly emotional and compelling. But the bigger problem is that Reddick’s script lets down this promising “survivor’s guilt/revenge” premise in several ways. It throws a too-obvious suspect at us, and gives no one a single memorable line.

The “supernatural” deaths aren’t horror-movie creative in the least, a big part of “Final Destination’s” success (and to be fair, budget).

The angry public is happy to spit on these eyewitnesses and ghoulishly celebrate the “karma” that their deaths represents to them. But that’s a seriously twisted misinterpretation of karma, for starters.

And the universe as a judge and jury executing people for cowardice or callousness isn’t remotely as gripping as the idea that young “nothing can hurt me” people escape their fate, only to have “death” stalk them and take them out, as “death’s grand design” intended.

That’s why “Final Destination” worked, and a big reason that “Don’t Look Back” doesn’t.

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Kourtney Bell, Will Stout, Skyler Hart, Jeremy Holm and Rainn Wilson.

Credits: Written and directed by Jeffrey Reddick. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:25

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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