Don’t Tell a Soul is an entertaining enough diversion than could have been so much more.
There was always something slightly sinister lurking beneath the surface of Rainn Wilson’s portrayal of Dwight Schrute in the American version of The Office, and that unsettling affect is ratcheted a few notches in the new thriller Don’t Tell a Soul, in which Wilson plays a humble security guard who falls into a 20-foot hole in the middle of nowhere while chasing two thieving brothers. There’s plenty more than meets the eye to both Wilson’s character and the film as a whole, which begins something like a low-budget Don’t Breathe but soon morphs into a portrait of poisoned familial bonds, as aforementioned brothers Matt (Fionn Whitehead) and Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer) butt heads over how to best handle the pesky security guard. Joey is younger and, thus, more prone to feelings of guilt and doubt; Matt is a violent asshole so unrepentant in his bad behavior that he more accurately resembles a cartoon character than an actual flesh-and-blood human being. Writer-director Alex McAulay certainly isn’t subtle in regards to character development and audience allegiance, although Don’t Tell a Soul is a film that never pretends to be substantive, save for a maudlin ending completely at odds with everything that came before it. That the ending is still somewhat effective reveals McAulay’s proficiency as a filmmaker, here making his directorial debut after writing 2017’s aggressively quirky teen thriller Flower, and it’s both surprising and impressive to discover that the film was shot digitally, the overall look so crisp and filmic. Whitehead, best known for his role as the hapless lead soldier in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, plays successfully against type as a vicious and heartless scumbag, while Grazer dials down his familiar sarcastic quirks (It, Shazam) to deliver a solid performance of his own, one that requires him to channel both a childlike innocence and a seething anger aching to break free. It’s Wilson, though, who steals the show, and does so in ways that are impossible to discuss without spoiling the film’s myriad plot twists, the majority of which are surprisingly clever. Don’t Tell a Soul is a mean, nasty little film — meant as a compliment — but one that ultimately, too conservatively, hedges its bets, which is a real shame. What could have gone down as a potential genre game-changer instead becomes merely an entertaining diversion, and nothing more. There are certainly worse things to be.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | January 2021.