"Don't Tell a Soul" is an empty attempt at a morality-based thriller that is not worth the rental fee.
By Soren Blomquist Eggerling, Staff Writer
Despite a strong trailer and an interesting cast that features Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) and Jack Dylan Grazer (“It”), a muddled plot, a comically stereotypical bad guy and cheeseball dialogue sink any chance “Don’t Tell a Soul” has at being an enjoyable watching experience.
Set against a backdrop of the billowing smokestacks of a decaying Rust Belt town, writer Alex McAulay’s directorial debut evokes a strong feeling but does little to articulate it. The setting is perfect for the morality yarn McAulay attempts to spin, highlighted by cinematography that beautifully displays the bleakness of the dying town and foreboding woods that trap both Grazer’s Joey and Wilson’s Officer Hamby.
The film centers around Joey and his older brother Matt (Fionn Whitehead), who break into a fumigated home and steal $10,000 in order to ostensibly pay for their dying mother’s cancer treatment. As they flee, they’re stopped by Hamby, who while chasing them into the woods falls into an abandoned well. Matt implores Joey to leave well enough alone, but Joey returns to the well, building up a rapport with Hamby, who becomes a father figure Joey has never had.
Despite the increasing danger Hamby poses as the film goes on, his character remains eminently more sympathetic than the cartoonishly cruel Matt, who is the film’s biggest stumbling block. Matt is like a bad guy in any 80s coming-of-age film: malicious and selfish with a paper-thin backstory that does little to justify his heinous actions. His character could’ve immensely benefited from a rewrite that added depth and complexity to his status as a confused teenager struggling to be the man of the house after his dad’s death. Instead, McAulay reduces Matt to overwrought actions such as pissing on Hamby and tearing apart the family home and empty epitaphs like “What, you got an MBA now?” and “I didn’t ask to be put in charge.”
In general, many of the actors, with Wilson being a partial exception, are given lines by McAulay that lack subtext, giving little for us to dig into and leaving an auspicious story with a startling lack of emotional depth. And for all of the promise of this film’s premise, the ride it takes us on feels pointless because the characters aren’t fleshed out or are clichés. A comparatively exciting ending makes for a brief reprieve, but even it too feels unsure of what it is trying to say.
The themes are promising, but “Don’t Tell a Soul” cannot deliver on that promise, making it a movie one might think twice about before renting.