Any film can easily craft a feeling of horror or dread if it brings enough effects. Blood! Guts! Gore! However, it takes an extra step to capture a feeling of internal uneasiness on-screen. As we come into the fall season (and Halloween) we usually see a plethora of scary movies starting to hit theaters. Don’t Go feels right at home during this season, and while it isn’t an outward horror film, the tense and uneasy Irish feature is worthy of a watch if you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary this Halloween.
Don’t Go follows tortured writer (aren’t we all?) Ben Slater (Stephen Dorff) and his wife Hazel (Melissa George) as the couple struggles to deal with the death of their young daughter. In the throes of grief, Ben struggles to keep a hold of his teetering sanity in the mundane stress of his daily life. David Gleeson directs the film from a script he co-wrote with Ronan Blaney.
Unfortunately, this plot and a number of its twists and turns have been explored often on screen, and this film feels a little worn in the grand scheme of things. In the construction of the script, Gleeson and Blaney seemingly weaved strands of Fatal Attraction together with some of The Changeling to achieve the desired light thriller with some horror sprinkled in. Particularly trying is the narrative’s addition of Ben’s extra-marital affair as a seeming red herring. Aoibhinn McGinnity sinks her teeth into the role of Serena, but ultimately her character is little more than a stereotypical “other woman”. Serena is given little set-up, and minute development at best. There’s a lot more which could have been done here, but this is such an overused trope in this genre, it fades into the sea of everything else we’ve seen recently.
Dorff and George are well cast in their respective roles and achieve a well-constructed chemistry in their complex relationship. Dorff in particular shines early in the movie as he grapples with the loss of his daughter. He easily conveys a sense of detached grief of a father struggling with shock. This becomes even more powerful as he nears his mental breaking point.
Meanwhile, George does some interesting work in what is often a thankless part. Women cast as the wife in films of this variety usually fall into two camps: blindly supportive or heinous shrew. There’s often no in-between. Ultimately, George doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do in the scope of the narrative. However, the actress injects a refreshing complexity into her character with what she’s given. She’s relatable. She feels like a woman wallowing in grief after the loss of her daughter. She needs a return to normalcy, but she also needs her husband. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be as easy as she needs it to be.
Don’t Go crafts an uneasy, unsettling mood to the narrative. As Ben begins to loose his grasp on reality, the spookiness escalates, taking the form of some subtle (but effective) scares. Things happen that he can’t explain, things are written in places they shouldn’t be. Footsteps appear with no apparent source. In these moments, Don’t Go is very reminiscent of classic horror.
Finally, Gleeson makes stunning use of the film’s Irish setting. Visually, Don’t Go is an absolute work of art. The movie features gorgeous landscape shots, which are often a hallmark of Irish National cinema. Everything is just a bit too peaceful. In fact, the peace and tranquility of these beachside landscapes often contributes to the uneasiness in the narrative. The combination of these elements work incredibly well together, expertly crafting an interesting and memorable canvas for this story to take shape. This is a slower world giving the tortured writer, Ben plenty of time to get lost in his own head.
While Don’t Go doesn’t craft anything particularly groundbreaking in the narrative territory, the feature more than makes up for its struggles in the visual and stylistic department. Between the performances of Stephen Dorff and Melissa George as the film’s leads, and Gleeson’s creation of the environment’s tone through the visual, Don’t Go builds a fascinating narrative which keeps you on edge right up until the final credits roll.
Don’t Go is in theaters now.