As the Crow Flies
A review by Brennan Klein
Look, we all already know this is gonna be a weird Halloween. Trick or treating will be reduced to some socially distanced replacement (I vote candy cannons). Large gatherings of costume parties are off the menu this year. Bobbing for apples should definitely be avoided. And even movies, the place we turn to for at-home Halloween thrills and spills, aren't hitting us the way they would have a year ago. So as we turn away from theaters for the time being, we must turn to VOD and plumb the depths of contemporary horror it has to offer. From those depths has arisen Don't Look Back, adapted by writer-director Jeffrey Reddick from his 2014 short film Good Samaritan.
Nine months after a home invasion that killed her dad and left her dead for three minutes before being resuscitated, Caitlin Kramer (Kourtney Bell) witnesses an assault in a park that kills local philanthropist Douglas Helton (Dean J. West). She is one of a group of 6 people who stood by and didn't intervene, who Douglas' indignant brother Lucas (Will Stout) outs to the public on the news. The public, behaving in a way that's maybe a little too optimistic on the part of the screenplay, instantly vilifies these people. When the seven begin to die one by one in mysterious accidents, Caitlin vows to get to the bottom of it. It's pretty clear to us in the audience that there is at least some supernatural involvement here, given the way people keep getting dragged through doorways or down streets by an unseen presence heralded by the arrival of a leering crow, but Caitlin has been suffering from hallucinations since her own assault and is working hard to separate out what is real.
If six people from different backgrounds drawn together by a fatal event being killed by a supernatural entity sounds a lot like Final Destination to you, you're dead wrong. It's a lot like Final Destination 2. This seems like an FD spec script where someone hit Find and Replace to switch "Death" with "Karma," then punched it up with a lot of material about the guilt of passive bystanders. You get everything you need to know about the movie's thesis from the opening credits, which roll through what feels like a dozen fake news clips about people filming violence on their phones rather than helping the victims. This features haranguing, clunky "news anchor" voiceover that was in all likelihood performed by whatever assistant wandered through the door of the ADR studio at the wrong time. Talk about bad karma!
I'm not saying the movie's message is morally wrong, it's just delivered with the precision of a sledgehammer. But at least it provides the movie with some flavor, because otherwise there would be nothing to separate this from the dozens of supernatural horror vehicles clogging up your local Redbox. Even still, Don't Look Back is a mannequin of a horror movie: you can clearly recognize what the shape of it is supposed to be, but it's a lifeless, colorless lump that lacks any sort of detail or distinguishing marks. From the five minute mark, you can trace the entire shape the narrative will take all the way to the end, with 95% certainty.
A generic movie can still be satisfying though, if it invests in its characters and situation enough. Don't Look Back does not do this. Events in this movie only happen because the plot needs them to, not because of anything naturally arriving from a well-drawn character, because it doesn't have any of those to spare. This is the type of screenplay where the lead character can overhear people at an outdoor market saying things like, "oh you know that guy Nathan Rome, who witnessed the murder of Douglas Helton? He lives right over there..." and then return to silently chowing down on their ice cream, as if they only talk when they have things to say that might be relevant to any eavesdroppers.
However, the movie still had a shot at the brass ring in spite of all this. Even in the most dire cases, all a slasher has to do is provide a heap of satisfying deaths and it can claw its way into the hearts of gorehounds everywhere. Guess what Don't Look Back doesn't do. The deaths here are probably the worst part of the entire affair. The infrequent gore effects we get are ill-lit and have a tempera paint sheen that wouldn't pass muster in a 50's Western. The one way the script deviates from being truly generic is that it doesn't foreground the body count, content to let most of its characters either die offscreen or live far longer into the run time than the needs of the genre would dictate. See? Generic can be good sometimes.
The worst sin a horror movie can commit is to be boring, and Don't Look Back tips dangerously close. The only real shining light is that the cast is entirely capable, lead actress Kourtney Bell in particular imbuing her role with the right combination of vulnerability and inner strength. You fear for her when she is menaced, but you know she's capable of saving the day if she can just get herself on the right track. But one solid performance does not a satisfying supernatural slasher make. Don't Look Back will serve its purpose at a slumber party when you're too busy trying to snuggle up with your crush to actually pay attention, but beyond that I don't see any reason to recommend it, even with the slim pickings we're getting this 2020 Halloween season.
To hear more about the best part of Don't Look Back, check out our interview with Kourtney Bell: Podcast or Video Interview.
Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter, if you feel like it.