Combustible Celluloid
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With: Amanda Arcuri, Jackson Rathbone, Kerri Medders, Elise Luthman, Ivon Millan, Ashlee Füss
Written by: Daniel Woltosz, Walter Woltosz
Directed by: Daniel Woltosz, Walter Woltosz
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, sexual material, some language and brief partial nudity
Running Time: 100
Date: 10/02/2020

Do Not Reply (2020)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Brad Luck

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Intended as a cautionary tale with a message, the grim, unpleasant thriller Do Not Reply is too close to raw exploitation to take seriously; all that remains is a picture of cruel abuse and victimized women.

Shy, lonely teen Chelsea (Amanda Arcuri) lives in the shadow of her popular cheerleader sister, and even her best friend Mia (Ivon Millan) has been swept away by a new boyfriend. She takes refuge in attentive messages sent by an anonymous online admirer, and after a few weeks, agrees to meet him in person for a Halloween party. After accepting a drink from him, she wakes up in a dirty basement.

Her captor, Brad (Jackson Rathbone), tells her that her name is "Sadie" from now on. She must bleach her hair blonde and wear her cheerleader uniform, along with two other captive women (Kerri Medders and Elise Luthman), and do everything the volatile, abusive Brad tells her. But Chelsea is determined to escape. She meets another woman, hidden away with a deadly stab wound (inflicted by Brad), and learns the secrets that she'll need to set her plan in motion.

While the Chelsea character in Do Not Reply is seen as heroic, never giving up hope of escape, it's hard to forget how easily she was preyed upon in the first place, and it's difficult to reconcile these two sides of her. The other women are completely indoctrinated, proclaiming their "love" for Brad and competing for his attentions. It's all so very distressing.

Technically, the movie — helmed by a father-son team, Walter and Daniel Woltosz, both making their feature directing debut — looks good, with a strong sense of claustrophobia, prison-like rooms, and a use of footprint-catching shag rugs. But they can't quite find a rhythm that allows for any kind of release from the despair.

The Brad character is played, as one would expect, as a psychopath with coiled, quiet moments and explosions of temper (with, of course, a shirt buttoned up to the collar), and he's abhorrent. Ultimately, it's difficult to get away from the "thriller-y" aspects of Do Not Reply to get to the truth of the message.

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