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With: Jack Dylan Grazer, Fionn Whitehead, Mena Suvari, Rainn Wilson
Written by: Alex McAulay
Directed by: Alex McAulay
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence, teen drug use and a sexual reference
Running Time: 83
Date: 01/15/2021

Don't Tell a Soul (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Chase in the Hole

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As lean and mean as they come, the sharp, emotional thriller Don't Tell a Soul is centered on just four characters and a couple of spare locations, and yet it wryly uncoils a surprising number of shocks and layers.

Fourteen year-old Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer) lives with his bullying older brother Matt (Fionn Whitehead) and their mother, Carol (Mena Suvari), who is couch-ridden and sick with lung cancer. Matt recruits Joey for a mission, and forces him to break into an old lady's house, which is being fumigated, and steal her secret stash of cash. Joey succeeds, but they are discovered by a security guard, Hamby (Rainn Wilson), and chased.

Hamby suddenly falls into a disused, twenty-foot well and breaks his ankle. Matt wants to leave him there, but Joey isn't so sure. He sneaks back to bring Hamby food and medicine, even though he's afraid of what might happen if Hamby gets out. Nevertheless, there's far more to Hamby than anyone realizes.

An impressive directing debut by screenwriter Alex McAulay (Flower), Don't Tell a Soul is, at its core, a portrait of violence passed down through families. Every character here is a victim, and, ultimately, a perpetrator of violence, and yet they are all really just looking for love. Joey's relationship with Hamby becomes something of a father-son one, although constantly shifting between revealing and hiding, threatening and comforting.

Wilson gives the most astute performance in Don't Tell a Soul, almost as if he's playing chess. He makes us totally understand why Joey might like him or trust him. And Grazer, who was also terrific in It, It Chapter Two, and Shazam!, gives another solidly likable turn here. It's hard to take Whitehead as the bully; he's so brutal that it's easy to hate him, but he carries his pain effectively.

Starting off with a Jane Austen quote ("What strange creatures brothers are!"), McAulay's filmmaking is snappy, but also scruffy, falling back into a lived-in, wintry, dead-leaf look. His script may not entirely, completely hold water, but it certainly feels both genuinely unexpected and genuinely touching.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release includes a digital copy, but the only extra is a 21-minute, pretty interesting featurette. Picture and sound on the movie are strong, with a 5.1 DTS audio mix, plus optional English or Spanish subtitles. Recommended.

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