Since LAPD detective Jack Radcliff's (David Oyelowo) brother is a low-level druggie in and out of the slammer, Jack's spent the last several years being a surrogate father to his niece Ashley (Storm Reid). When Jack arrives at their house one night to find everyone dead in an apparent murder/suicide, he goes into a deep depression, until he receives a cellphone call — from Ashley. Is it a ghost? Has he lost his mind?
After receiving a second call, Jack realizes he's communicating with the Ashley of a week earlier, when she was still alive — at least, for the next couple of days. Can Jack's spotty foreknowledge of that fateful night help him talk Ashley through the unexplained — and constantly rewritten — events that led to her death?
Don't mistake writer/director Jacob Estes' Don't Let Go for science fiction. There's not a speck of science in it — no zillion-dollar machine opening a wormhole to the past, no time even for any debate or speculation as to what has happened. Jack somehow opens the doorway to a prior Ashley merely by whim — or something opens it for him, meaning we're in full-on Twilight Zone mode.
This is fate, or whatever you want to call it, taking a direct hand in human affairs for the sake of a little girl. It's the "What if?" we've all asked: If you could go back to one seminal moment in your life and do or say something different — or even just communicate with past you or someone close — what would you do or say? I'd contemplate telling the ’70s me to buy shares in Apple, but I think I'd end up telling my close friend and college roommate not to eat so much pork.
There's no fancy special effects, no action scenes. The film doesn't need them. They'd just detract from the human drama. Although we occasionally see Mykelti Williamson and Al Molina as Jack's police buddies, who fear Jack's losing his mind, Estes' story is essentially a two-character drama. All that matters is Jack and Ashley, and both Reid and Oyelowo deliver poignant performances that render their familial bond touchingly believable.
Of course, it all leads up to a replay of events. The audience is spared witnessing what happened to Ashley and her parents at the beginning of the movie, but at the end we can't escape, and I have to say it's a grueling few minutes that made me squirm in my seat.
Even if time travel were possible, can destiny be changed, or is it somehow immutable? Maybe certain things are meant to be.
These are the questions inherent in any time travel story. Most of them were asked in 2000's Frequency starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, the film that Don't Let Go most closely resembles. And this isn't young Reid's first encounter with fantastical jaunts through spacetime; she also appeared as the heroine of Disney's 2018 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, in which Oyelowo also participated.
I give Don't Let Go a qualified recommendation for Reid's and Oyelowo's heartfelt performances. Just because I've seen it all in a dozen other movies and TV episodes doesn't mean everyone else has.
But there's one thing that nagged at me through the whole film. I'm notoriously slow in figuring these things out, but I knew — knew — within the first 12 minutes what had really happened to Ashley and her family. And even without some time-traveling nonsense, so should Detective Jack.