Friday, October 16, 2020

Don’t Look Back: Karma Kills

In horror movies, what comes around, always goes around. Karma kills. In fact, karma itself becomes a malevolent agent of scares in this horror movie. It might also get some help from an angry grudge-holding spirit, but whatever the forces at work, the implications are dire for Caitlin Kramer in director-screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick’s Don’t Look Back, which releases today on demand.

Some might think of this as the horror movie take on the infamous Kitty Genovese case, but it really isn’t. Her brother William Genovese pretty thoroughly debunks the alleged case of witness indifference, concluding
The New York Times exaggerated it to the point of fabrication in the documentary, The Witness. Regardless, Kramer and five other bystanders stood by gawking while Douglas Helton was bashed to death by a thug. Kramer shouldn’t be judged as harshly as the others, because the incident induced flashbacks to the brutal home invasion she barely survived, but that will not matter to the media and the victim’s brother.

Already wracked with guilt, Kramer starts seeing visions of the murdered man. Much to her boyfriend’s frustration, she becomes obsessed with notions of karma and angry ghosts, but she really starts to freak when she happens to see one of her fellow witnesses leap to his death, with what looks like a shadowy figure hovering behind him. He will not be the last of them to meet an untimely demise.

Don’t Look Back
(not to be confused with D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan doc) shares a structural-thematic kinship with the Final Destination franchise, which makes sense, since Reddick wrote the first two movies. Both focus on characters caught up in sinister cosmic dynamic beyond their control, but in the case of the new film, most of the by-standers sort of have themselves to blame.

Karma is definitely a big macro idea, but Reddick gives a micro treatment that is surprisingly narrow in scope. Yet, that works relatively well, because it gives time to establish Kramer’s persona, so we can buy into both her guilty conscious and lingering victim’s fear. Most of the rest of the characters are stock figures, especially her ridiculously insensitive boyfriend. However, Rainn Wilson has a wicked scene-stealing cameo as TV commentator George Reed (I might just write his name in for President).

Some hardcore horror fans might argue
Don’t Look Back is not sufficiently horror, but it is rather refreshing to see a chiller that crosses over into mystery and psychological thriller terrain. It is a small but scrappy movie that holds viewer attention. Recommended as a potential streamer, Don’t Look Back releases today (10/16) in theaters (where available) and on-demand.