Review by Sean Boelman
Often, it’s the thrillers with the simplest premises that are most effective, and for the most part, that is the case with Alex McAulay’s Don’t Tell a Soul. And even though the script does lose some of its steam when it tries to go beyond the basics of the formula, strong performances keep the movie seriously suspenseful.
The film follows two teenagers who, while trying to steal money to help with their terminally ill mother, strand a security guard at the bottom of a well and are presented with an unexpected ethical challenge. It’s a unique twist on a story we have seen time and time again, but McAulay’s directorial style is strong enough to compensate for its bits of genericism.
Much of the first half is largely dialogue-driven, and this is definitely the most compelling portion. When the movie tries to turn into something a bit more action-oriented, it requires a bit too much suspension of disbelief from the audience. And with such a short runtime, the film tries to do a bit too much with too little time.
Admittedly, the movie is a bit heavy-handed with its themes, particularly when it comes to the final act. The script tries to tie in an element of family drama, but it doesn’t work particularly well. And while a lot of the story is about moral ambiguity, it ends up leaning the wrong way by the time the third act comes around.
The dynamic between the two protagonists, who are brothers, is rather shallow. It’s the trope of older brother antagonizing younger brother, and the emotional arc is really contrived as a result. The antagonist is a much more interesting character, although the arc he has is a lot more problematic.
On a technical level, the film is quite strong. McAulay brings a very cold visual style, and it works, creating a very immersive atmosphere. The production design for much of the movie is very simple, but the filmmakers do a good job of making the viewer feel an increasing sense of entrapment as the story goes on.
That said, the single strongest aspect of the film is its performances. The three leads — Jack Dylan Grazer, Fionn Whitehead, and Rainn Wilson — all give strong turns. They have excellent chemistry together, especially Grazer and Wilson, selling even the most ludicrous of the movie’s moments.
Don’t Tell a Soul is a refreshing thriller offering some solid entertainment with a lean runtime. It can be a bit frustrating at times when it tries to be something more than it is, but when it sticks to the basics, it’s surprisingly good.
Don’t Tell a Soul hits VOD on January 15.