Film Review: Don't Go

In this handsomely made psychological thriller, a troubled couple tries to move on after the loss of their young daughter, but find themselves mired in the past.
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Ben and Hazel Slater (Stephen Dorff, Melissa George) were shattered when their little girl, Molly (Grace Farrell), died after falling down a flight of stairs. Ben, a psychologist, has a successful book, The Reality Delusion, to his credit, but when the opportunity arises to take over Carrig’s View House, a picturesque old hotel by the Irish Sea owned by Hazel’s family, they jump at the chance to make a new start. Hazel takes over much of the work of managing the hotel while Ben gets a job teaching at the local Sacred Heart School, where he finds a confidant of sorts in Father Sean (Simon Delaney), a self-described “contrary bollocks” who ruefully jokes about his inability to be of much help to anyone.
Ultimately, of course, there’s no running away from the past, let alone from yourself. Hazel is drawn back into her own previous life—old friends, including hard-drinking and all-around screwed up Serena (Aoibhinn McGinnity), old beaus and a mess of history Ben doesn’t share. And Ben begins to retreat into his own literal dreams, including one in which monster wave is going to kill everyone and the enigmatic phrase “seas the day” looms large. Beautiful though the beach and the ocean are, mostly their new home reminds Ben of one of the last times he was happy, when he and Molly went to the shore and made sandcastles. Ben’s dream life begins to interfere with his waking one; the dreams of being on the beach seem so real that he feels as though he could step into them—and if he could, would he be able to change the future? That way lies madness, of course, but sanity is becoming an increasingly painful burden to bear.
On the one hand, writer-director David Gleeson and co-writer Ronan Blaney’s subtle psychological thriller is cut from familiar cloth, but their use of the serenely beautiful Irish coast is discretely seductive and leads Dorff and George bring real substance to their characters; neither is entirely dreamer or pragmatist and together they make for a believable couple whose marriage is being tested in harsh but realistic ways. That kind of grounding makes the story’s more fantastic elements unusually easy to accept: It’s equally possible that Ben is coming undone or that the world around him has changed and he’s simply struggling to adjust.
Don’t Go is sufficiently subtle that some viewers will find it dull and lacking in traditionally “scary” moments. But others will appreciate the care with which it walks the line between supernatural and psychological horror, recalling movies like Don’t Look Now and The Innocents, in which the question is always whether the protagonists are dealing with a house full of ghosts or a head full of them.