Tag: jacob aaron estes

Don’t Let Go

Don’t Let Go (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

God answered Detective Jack Radcliff’s prayers. Having wished that his family’s murder be undone, Jack (David Oyelowo) receives a phone call from his niece, Ashley (Storm Reid), despite the fact that she was one of the three (Brian Tyree Henry, Shinelle Azoroh) who perished in what appeared to be a home invasion. Jack, somehow in active communication with Ashley three days before her death via phone, figures he is given a chance to discover the identity, or identities, of those responsible and put a stop to them. He assumes that should he succeed, Ashley’s life, and possibly her family’s lives, would be spared.

During the first thirty minutes “Don’t Let Go,” written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, has the makings of an engaging thriller. From the moment it begins there is a foreboding feeling that something will go horribly awry and yet when it is time to face exactly what it is we expect, we cannot help but feel disturbed anyway. Notice the patience in direction and control of the camera as the detective examines his brother’s home and the bloody corpses that lay before him. We feel we are in that space, breathing the air of those no longer alive. But despite the horror that transpired in that house, there is no protracted screaming, yelling or crying. The stillness of the camera suggests that the filmmaker wants us to have enough time to imagine what might have occurred. We are placed in the shoes of a detective the moment we enter the murder house.

But the work does not function on a high level on a consistent basis. The tricks, particularly as we are shown what occurs between the past and the present in “real” time, get old eventually. I think the problem, for the most part, is a lack of rules. It is difficult to make a convincing time travel movie, let alone a genuinely entertaining one filled with creativity and enthusiasm. Precise rules must be created, enacted, and followed—which this film proves to have trouble with. For instance, it does not tell or show us how many chances Jack has to get the answer right and solve the murders. Why should we care when Jack has a hundred lives and therefore a hundred chances? If he has only one chance, that is an entirely different scenario. Thus, knowing he could only fail so many times is directly correlated to the plot’s tension.

The solution is predictable, not at all a challenge for those well-versed in mysteries. That is one thing. The villain’s, or villains’, motivation is another. It is so generic that it conflicts—rather than complements—with the plot’s rather fantastic premise. Take away the time travel element and what remains is just another wan thriller set in Los Angeles. What makes the picture special then is a gimmick—one executed with mediocrity. And that is a big problem. The third act is mainly composed of especially boring, uninspired trivialities. It is a drag to the finish line.

The heart of the picture is the relationship between Jack and Ashley. Oyelowo and Reid share a warm chemistry that is immediately believable. He encourages her optimism, sense of humor, and artistry. She considers him more as a big brother than an uncle. Having shown us the depth of their connection, we understand why Ashley’s death is so heartbreaking for Jack that he would be willing to grab onto a shot at redemption. But the work is a thriller first and foremost. Dramatic elements must be supported by a thorough and well-written screenplay. The twisty turns certainly demand it.


Rings (2017)
★ / ★★★★

For a movie written by three people, “Rings” is staggeringly idiotic. It seems as if David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, and Akiva Goldsman did not have any original idea lodged in their brains somewhere and so they settled with providing the viewers one cliché after another, hoping that the years between this and the last “Ring” picture were enough to forgive or overlook such bottom-of-the-barrel dross. We deserve better than this. I urge everybody to stay far away from this picture because it is bad on the level of brain cell extermination.

The first act exhibits a glimmer of promise because it signals the plot taking place, for the most part, in a college setting in modern times. If the writers had an iota of inspiration, they would have focused on how young adults consume media nowadays and how easy it is to fall into accidentally seeing an image or video that we otherwise wouldn’t dare to view on purpose. This would have been an interesting next step for the franchise, about a videotape that goes around where, if seen, the viewer receives a phone call and is informed by a supernatural whisper on the other line that he or she has only seven days to live.

The lead protagonists (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe) are deadly dull. They have nothing interesting to say or do and so I found myself wishing the ghostly Samara would finally get them—perhaps then the plot would focus on other characters instead. I imagined Lutz and Roe were only in it for the money because even they seemed bored with what they had to work with. For instance, in a would-be revelatory sequence that takes place underneath a church, Lutz’ facial expression remains the same between shrieks and gasps. How far have we come from the 2002 American version where Naomi Watts, who convincing plays an increasingly desperate mother, visits a creepy, foggy island to investigate Samara’s origins.

No effort is made to elevate the atmosphere, a sense of dread, or, at the very least, tension. Observe the first scene that unfolds on a plane. Notice how the dialogue does not bother with carefully constructed pauses, how the camera is afraid to utilize tight and extended closeups, and how loud it becomes so quickly, special and visual effects immediately at the forefront without any sort of timing and escalation. Standout horror pictures are helmed by filmmakers who understand the critical nature of timing. Director F. Javier Gutiérrez shows no understanding of it. It appears that his idea of horror is merely showing creepy insects, hallucinations, sudden booming of the score.

To say that “Rings” is a misfire is to be too kind. I believe that the filmmakers didn’t even have a target, no bar actually set for themselves to meet or overcome. I believe that the picture is made simply to make money, to steal from fans of the series through nostalgia. I’m disgusted by movies like this and I wish that those involved would take the time to dig deep and reevaluate their careers so that they wouldn’t waste any more of their time—and ours.

Mean Creek

Mean Creek (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jacob Aaron Estes’ “Mean Creek” does something in special in that not once does it look down on its subjects: young people who must make a choice after something that cannot be taken back has occurred. The moral calamity these characters veer themselves through commands a seriousness that many movies about responsibility hope to delve into but ultimately only graze.

The only way to tell the story of what happens to these kids is with directness and simplicity. By stripping away potentially distracting elements like quirkiness in the dialogue, teleportation between perspectives, and turning on a soundtrack that gives a hint on how we should feel or what we should think, it makes room for introspection. We understand each of them–where they come from, their dominant personalities, what it is that hurts them most–and so we are given a chance to be honest with ourselves. We relate with them–even to the ones who appear to be the most despicable.

Sam (Rory Culkin) is attacked by George (Josh Peck) at school. Believing that fifteen minutes of detention for a week is not a good enough punishment for the wounds on Sam’s face, not to mention the social embarrassment, Rocky (Trevor Morgan), Sam’s older brother, is convinced that something else has to be done. But he is smart. Rocky tells Sam that they need to hurt fat George without really hurting him, at least not a kind of punishment that leaves a mark. So, a plan about a boating trip is made and George is invited. Since George does not have many friends, he happily accepts. He figures that maybe this time is a true opportunity for him to belong in a group.

There is a portentous aura that brews during the car ride to the river and when the boat is making its way downstream. Silence between dialogue is utilized when it counts. The water gently sloshing against the boat might as well be the kids’ guilt banging on drums. We wonder if they will ultimately go through with the plan. Sometimes the conversation is friendly. For a while, the game of truth or dare is full of laughs–as it should be. But there are other times when conversations turn ugly. George expresses his disgust about Clyde (Ryan Kelley) having two fathers at home. And then there is Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), the eldest of the group, whose life at home has been difficult since his father’s death. George has a knack for pushing everybody’s button. Something’s gotta give.

When the picture takes a dark turn, it is dealt with honesty. The kids who return home from the trip are changed somehow but the accompanying scenes are not predictable. There is no hyperbolic crying or screaming, just a feeling of exhaustion, disbelief, and wanting to hide from the world and oneself. The shame takes root and yet, surprisingly, I think it is what gives them a chance to recognize what should be done even if there is pressure to pretend like nothing important happened that day.

“Mean Creek” shares a similar consciousness with pictures like Larry Clark’s “Bully” and Tim Hunter’s “River’s Edge” because the story revolves around complicated choices before and after an irrevocable thing. In some situations, there is right and wrong. While choosing the wrong thing can be perceived as a moral tragedy, so is allowing oneself to become unaware of the fact that there is always an alternative.