Secrets can be a strange thing, especially when they involve mischief or sinister actions of some sort, and even more so when they involve an older brother punching his little brother in the face about 17 times...
...Much like the little brother’s cheekbone in this subpar analogy, secrets can tend to break people. They bring out the worst in everyone. And if there’s one thing I know about horror films it’s that the worst in everyone is usually a recipe for a pretty solid movie…
Writer/director Alex McAulay’s Don’t Tell a Soul, as you may have already guessed, is the dark tale of two brothers, Matt and Joey (Fionn Whitehead and Jack Dylan Grazer respectively), who learn a large-ish sum of cash is up for grabs at the house of an elderly couple, which just so happens to be in the process of fumigation. Coincidence? I think not. Our first hint at the boys’ rocky relationship comes when older brother/giant dickhead, Matt, pulls out a gas mask and hands it to Joey, forcing him to go into the tented-in house. While Matt, aforementioned giant dickhead, immediately asserts the dominant, badass older brother role, Joey, a calmer—and likely wiser—little brother is just along for the ride. Upon exiting the house, Joey emerges with around 10 grand in cash. Awesome. What’s not awesome? While fleeing the scene, the brothers are caught by security guard Mr. Hamby (Rainn Wilson), who takes chase. I would imagine two boys—one holding a gas mask, another dressed like a school bully from a ‘90s teen sitcom—would be a pretty big red flag for something, after all.
Mr. Hamby almost catches up to Joey. Almost. That is, until he falls into the most inconveniently-placed well of all time, for whatever odd reason, in the middle of the woods. Shocked, the boys quickly decide to head home. We’re greeted by their cancer-stricken mother (Mena Suvari) and the environment of a broken family. Their father, we learn, was an alcoholic, and likely where Matt’s giant dickhead personality came from. We see Joey subject to abuse a bit more excessive than big-brother-little-brother horseplay, and the film’s momentum slows. Which brings a couple things to the table: 1) the conflicted decision Joey’s having of going back to the well to check on the guard and 2) focus on the camera work, character building, mood, and all that other movie stuff.
As the audience is given time to soak in what’s happened, since the pacing slows at a near-perfect moment, we’re finally allowed to see the amount of talent in what’s going on. The overall mood of the film is wonderfully bleak: it’s late autumn/early winter, overcast and gloomy, some factory town with more smokestacks than people, and it’s all captured with precise, darting angles, complete with a few claustrophobic ones for the shots of Rainn Wilson in the well. Film quality/resolution is extremely high, and it brings out even more of the perfect horror/thriller movie setting. All of the cast contribute very good performances, with the standouts being Rainn Wilson and Jack Dylan Grazer. Grazer is the most impressive, however. This kid is phenomenal. He plays the nervous, bullied, pent-up-with-hidden-rage little brother role masterfully, with some surprises to boot.
I don’t want to spoil some of the truly enjoyable twists that happen. Suffice to say, without being completely mind-bending, the stop-start pace of the movie keeps them off your radar and allows them space to build to a great culmination. My biggest gripe is the very end, where things turn out a bit too well. With how bleak the film is, I was kind of hoping that tone would carry over to the ending; call me morbid, but horror movies don’t always have happy endings.
Don’t Tell a Soul showcases some fantastic work by writer/director Alex McAulay, marking him as someone to keep an eye on, as well as very solid performances all around by the cast; especially Jack Dylan Grazer. Though the ending knocked things slightly off center for me, others may not hold that opinion. What we have here is a well-crafted, bleak, and moody thriller that will surely grasp horror fans and might even pull in a few unlikely ones thanks to the incredible talent all around.
Don’t Tell A Soul comes to VOD from Saban/Lionsgate on January 15th.
By Zach Gorecki