Sunday, February 28, 2021

DON'T TELL A SOUL (2020) (Lionsgate Blu-ray Review)

Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 96 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39:1)
Audio: English Dolby Atmos with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Alex McAulay
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Fionn Whitehead, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mena Suvari

In the unsettling thriller Don't Tell A Soul (2020) teen brothers Matt (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk) and Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer, It) steal money to help care for their cancer-stricken mother (Mena Suvari, Stuck). The theft involves the younger brother Joey entering a house that is tented for fumigation wearing an military surplus gas mask to steal a large sum of money an old woman who lives there keeps in a cookie tin. The theft is a success until the teens are spotted by a security guard named Hamby (Rainn Wilson, The Boy), who gives chase to the teens through the woods, during which he falls down a long-forgotten water well, shattering his ankle during the fall and unable to escape. 

Matt and Joey are relieved to have escaped the guard but the younger brother's conscience won't let him forget about the man who is now stuck in the well. Against his older and much meaner brother's wishes Joey continues to visit the man in the well out in the woods, bringing him food, clothing, blankets and a two-way radio to keep in touch with him when he is at home. 

Over the next few days, Joey and Hamby forges an uneasy friendship, but when Matt learns that his little brother is visiting Hamby and considering setting him free he becomes very aggressive and threatening against his younger
sibling. The film establishes that the boys father died a few years earlier, and that he was not exactly in the running for father-of-the-year, and as the mother is now struggling  with her sickness the older brother has become the defacto father-figure in the house. That's not great either, the older sibling is a thick headed, frustrated, and abusive presence, while the younger one is clearly desperate for a father-figure connection, which is where Hamby comes in. The pair make a connection during Joey's daily visits and nighttime two-way radio conversations, but despite Hamby's pleas for the kid to call for help he refuses to do so, largely out of fear of being caught and/or being pummeled by his brute of a brother. 

The core of the film is the strained dynamic between the brothers, Matt is a hateful bully who physically abuses his brother, seemingly taking after his father in the worse sort of way. At a certain point the stakes are raised when Matt decides he has to remove the security guard from the equation, and things quickly escalate between the brothers, resulting in a finale that begins to get super dark, but it feels a bit too restrained for what what the film seems to be setting up. 

Watching this I was reminded of another small town downer of a film, 2017's Super Dark Times, which had a similar tone and dynamic. The actors portraying the brothers are terrific, each selling the adversarial brother dynamic to the hilt, especially Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!), who you can feel screaming from the inside for a normal home life and a father figure. Rainn Wilson is also quite good, but there's a revelation about him in the final stretch of the film that made me wished he had played a part of this with a bit more menace, but the guy is just so off-kilter (which I love about him) that what should be a bit more hardened comes off as quirkier than it should be, but I still liked the performance. Suvari is in a bit of thankless role, her character is weakened and ineffective as a parent. There's just not much for her to do, but in the end she does fight through the fog pf painkillers to come to the aid her children. 

I love a good, depressing small town family dysfunction film, I come from a rural small town not unlike what we see in the film, it was not always great, the depression was real, and writer/director Alex McAulay taps right into that dark vein and runs with it with quite a bit of tonal accuracy. Set during the winter it captures that depressing vibe I know so well, with the addition of towering smokestacks in the background pouring pollution into the air.  Where I think the film falls a bit short is the optimism of the finale,  when it pulls itself back from the brink, when I think it would have been truer to dive into the abyss. There's a moment right at the end when I thought it was gonna go super super dark on several fronts, but it doesn't commit to the abyss and wants to see light at the end of the tunnel, but yo can feel it pulling back, it feels slightly forced in my opinion. 

Audio/Video: Don't Tell A Soul (2020) arrives on Blu-ray from Lionsgate in 1080p HD framed in 2.39:1. The digitally shot film looks solid. The cold tone of the cinematography that captures the depressing, cold winter setting is nicely replicated here, with good solid black levels throughout. Audio comes by way of a Dolby Atmos presentation that offers a mostly dialogue driven experience, but it kicks in with pleasing low-end and atmospherics during the more tense moments, and spreading the score around a bit. 

The only extras is a 20-min making of featurette with the principle cast and crew, disusing the genesis of the film, the production and the score, with some cool behind-the-scenes footage detailing the production design and fun on-set. The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork which us replicated on the slipcover. Inside there's a code for a digital HD copy of the film.  

Special Features:

- Flesh & Blood: Creating Don’t Tell A Soul (20 min) 

Don't Tell A Soul (2020) is an unsettling dysfunctional family thriller that is well-acted and as gripping as it is dark. I do think it's a bit too optimistic in the way things pan out but I still recommend it for fans of depressing dysfunctional family thrillers. 

(Spoilery) Screenshots from the Lionsgate Blu-ray: