Film Review: ‘Don’t Go’ Can’t Conjure Up Any Emotions

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Ghost stories and grief have had a symbiotic cinematic relationship as far back as the medium has existed. “Don’t Go” is just the latest in this long line. Unfortunately, this won’t be an entry into the genre that leaves any lasting imprint. Opting more for mystery and suspense than horror, the film takes too deliberate a path and leaves too much unsaid. That can be compelling when done in the service of a more powerful narrative, but too often here the story is just rudderless. A welcome lead turn for Stephen Dorff gives the audience something to hold on to, but it’s not nearly enough. Without a set direction to go in, the work ends up going nowhere.

There was potential here. If “Take Shelter” had more of a supernatural bent to it, you could almost call “Don’t Go” its cinematic cousin. Sadly, too little of the potential is realized. The morose tone, slack pacing, and unsatisfying conclusion stay with you far more than Dorff’s strong work. Avoiding horror cliches is one thing, but when the movie isn’t actually in the horror genre, that negates such praise. If a moribund looking Dorff staring off into Irish skies is your thing, this has it in abundance. Aside from that? Not so much. Any designs on being something more are completely unrealized.

The loss of a child is undeniably horrible. Here, it has removed the joy from the lives of Ben (Dorff) and Hazel (Melissa George). Living in a bleak Irish town that reflects their moods, Ben especially is just going through the motions. They’ve moved there, where Hazel grew up, hoping to renovate a seaside hotel and distract themselves. Still, the loss of their young daughter Molly (Grace Farrell) hangs over everything they do. Ben passes the time working at a Catholic school since he’s an author suffering from a long case of writer’s block. At the school, he has a friend in wisecracking Father Sean (Simon Delaney), but he’s far more obsessed with a recurring dream he’s having. It involves his daughter, of course, but isn’t just a part of the grieving process.

Convinced that this recurring dream can somehow bring his daughter back, Ben begins losing his sanity, at least to those around him. Much of it has to do with the phrase “Seas the Day” showing up all around him. Ben thinks it must be a message from his daughter. However, the more we learn about him, his past, and what happened with Molly’s death, the more we question what is going on in his head.

Stephen Dorff hasn’t been this good since “Somewhere” nearly a decade ago. His work is often compelling, even when the movie isn’t. Dorff manages to showcase grief throughout, even when things get a little silly. His inward performance and lack of charisma are actually a boon to the feature. Melissa George has more highs and lows, though the movie often forgets about her. With only a cursory effort to make this about the couple, George winds up left in the dust. Grace Farrell barely factors into things, while Simon Delaney provides a few humorous moments, but little else. Among supporting turns, only Aoibhinn McGinnity gets any notable time on the screen. This is Dorff’s show when you get right down to it.

Co-writer Ronan Blaney and co-writer/director David Gleeson don’t seem to have a rock solid idea of what they want “Don’t Go” to be. As such, it turns out to be very little. Blaney and Gleeson are banking on our fascination with their mystery, but that’s not the case. Furthermore, the twist in the third act is pretty tame. It turns out to be a lot of work for nothing. When your film is 91 minutes but feels like 121, you better pay it all off. “Don’t Go” can not. Gleeson creates a sense of atmosphere at times, which is a plus. Again though, Blaney and Gleeson show no urgency in telling their story.

Watching “Don’t Go” is a frustrating experience. A solid turn from Dorff and an occasional sense of atmosphere don’t add up to much. Those elements could have been the backbone to something worthwhile. Instead, it only goes to show how the final product is a shell of what it otherwise might have been. Alas. At best, this is a missed opportunity. At worst, it’s a waste of time.

“DON’T GO” IS DISTRIBUTED BY IFC FILMS AND OPENS IN THEATERS ON OCT. 26.

GRADE: (★★)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “Don’t Go” ranks among the contenders!