Producers: Ashleigh Snead, Roman Dent, Andy Steinman and Andrew van den Houten Director: Jeffrey Reddick Screenplay: Jeffrey Reddick Cast: Kourtney Bell, Skyler Hart, Will Stout, Jaqueline Fleming, Damon Lipari, Amanda Grace Benitez, Han Soto, Stephen Twardokus, Dean J. West, Bryan Batt and Jeremy Holm Distributor: Kamijaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures
Despite the injunction of the title, writer-director Jeffrey Reddick has clearly cast more than a backward glance at his own previous work in cobbling together his newest would-be thriller. Not only is it an expansion of his 2014 short “Good Samaritan,” but in adding to it Reddick has obviously taken a page from his first produced screenplay “Final Destination” (2000).
In “Samaritan,” which one can find on YouTube, a twenty-something named Nathan Rome (Toby Hemingway) is berated by a TV pundit (Rainn Wilson, The Office’s Dwight Schrute) for failing to help a man whom he saw being beaten by a mugger, electing to record the attack on his phone rather than calling the police. Rome was haunted to insanity by the certainty that someone—or something—was out to avenge the victim., and suffers a fate with a strong dose of irony.
In “Don’t Look Back,” Wilson reappears as the hectoring host, but Rome (now played by Stephen Twardokus) is only one of a half-dozen people who witness the assault, the most important of whom is Caitlin Kramer (Kourtney Bell), a jogger who had recently seen her father die in a horrendous home invasion. She grabs Rome’s phone and calls the cops, and also gives the lead detective (Jeremy Holm) a description of the perpetrator that eventually leads to his identification.
Nevertheless she’s haunted by visions of the victim and symbols of death (like a crow that shows up at inconvenient moments). and the dead man’s brother Lucas Helton (Will Stout) blames her and the others for not intervening and publicizes their names and addresses. Now they are in danger: they begin to die by violence, beginning with Rome, who falls to his death from his high-rise apartment. The question is whether they are being killed by a vigilante punishing them for their failure to intervene, or by some mysterious karmic force (just as, in Destination, the survivors of an airplane crash were systematically killed in a series of bizarre accidents).
The trouble with the feature is that in a mere nine minutes “Samaritan” delivered more scares than this movie does in ninety. It moves lethargically, and the death sequences have none of the gruesome panache of those in “Destination.” The revelation of how and why the witnesses are being targeted is disappointingly tame, and a twist ending, which tries to add a strained note of irony but only muddies the explanation that has already been given, makes things worse.
The acting, moreover, is flat. Bell is an attractive young woman, but proves incapable of carrying the film, and Stout is egregiously overwrought as the dead man’s grieving sibling. Only Jaqueline Fleming, as a bystander who had a special reason for being in the park at the time of the assault, brings any real conviction to her performance; the rest of the cast give perfunctory performances under Reddick’s lackadaisical direction, which is not helped by the choppy editing by Mike Mendez and Erik Rosenbluh. (Hemingway, for instance, was a far more compelling Rome than Twardokus is.) Wilson, easily the most recognizable person on screen, overdoes the indignation badly. Technically the picture is pretty low-grade: Jeff Subik’s production design is chintzy and Andy Steinman’s cinematography purely utilitarian, while Chris Thomas’ score leaves little impression.
If the premise of “Don’t Look Back” interests you at all, check out “Good Samaritan” instead and, if you must, watch “Final Destination” again. It may be terribly silly, but at least it has those comically grotesque death sequences and is unencumbered by this film’s smugly preachy tone. (Avoid, however, the dreadful sequels.)
Insofar as this movie is concerned, the better advice is simply not to look at all.