Ensemble films can be quite the tricky endeavor, especially for a first time director. Making sure one person has their performances dialed can be a pain in the ass, but a whole group of people?, That can be murder. Luckily, in the case of Travis Oates and his feature debut, DON’T BLINK, the ensemble not only shines, but gives viewers one hell of a time while doing so.
Focusing on a group of ten friends heading to a secluded resort for a weekend getaway, DON’T BLINK doesn’t waste any time in letting audiences get to know it’s characters. Jack and Tracy (CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST‘s Brian Austin Green and AMERICAN PIE‘s Mena Suvari), a happy couple on the verge of the next step in a relationship leads the group, filled with couples Sam and Charlotte (THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN‘s Leif Gantvoort and FIRST WINTER‘s Samantha Jacober), Ella and outsider Noah (Wilfred‘s Fiona Gubelmann and DmC: DEVIL MAY CRY‘s David de Lautour), Lucas and Amelia (THE CARTIDGE FAMILY‘s Curtiss Frisle and Emelie O’Hara, STAINNED GLASS WINDOWS), as well as student Claire (Joanne Kelly, WAREHOUSE 13), wanting to spend the weekend with some peace and quiet, and Alex (Zack Ward, A CHRISTMAS STORY,TRANSFORMERS), a tough as nails abrasive member of the group whose temper is lost at the drop of a dime.
Having spent a few minutes establishing the characters during all of their respective rides to the getaway resort, the film instantly lets you know that things are not what they seem whatsoever, when after arriving, the resort is not only empty, but empty with the stove still on, someone’s shoes still on the floor in a bathroom stall, and belongings are there, just minus their owners. What makes the film easy to latch onto right from the bat, is how there isn’t much in the way of the typical “I’m sure everything is ok, let’s act oblivious for a bit” angles that fill a lot of similar types of films. Were the resort’s previous inhabitants murdered? Did they all leave their stuff behind due to some accident? The gang immediately begins to ask themselves and each other those questions. While the Jack character tries to explain things and tries to get everyone to wait it out, the clash between his almost quiet, thoughtful demeanor and the quick to react, “let’s get the hell out of here!” approach of Ward’s Alex character really gives that push and pull contrast, one that is very welcomed in the film and lasts throughout the entire remainder of the movie. A character like Alex might get on viewers’ nerves in different films, but every time he questions things, even with the tough-guy persona, it makes perfect sense, and really makes you think about how what he is saying might be the right way to react.
Where the film goes from a typical “is this a slasher” vibe to a full on TWILIGHT ZONE-like vibe (in the best of ways), is when it’s figured out (very early on, so not much of a spoiler at all) that not only were the previous inhabitants NOT murdered, but that they just disappeared and ceased to exist. When that begins to happen to the group one by one, the film really becomes a well written and completely addicting ride, as each person is challenged to think about not only what to do, but how they think of things internally. Films like DON’T BLINK really entertain me, because they put a group of characters into an unavoidable situation and become character studies on how quickly groups can fall apart, and reveal the true colors of individuals, something that the film does in spades.
In the hands of lesser actors, the film could fall into an over-dramatic arena, but the performances by everyone involved really elevates the film into a very memorable experience. While it was incredibly easy to want to strangle the hell out of Ward in A CHRISTMAS STORY (that Scut Farkus!!), roles like the ones he played in FREDDY VS. JASON (albeit a small one, it’s one of the standout roles in that film) and now DON’T BLINK really show how far he’s come as a dramatic and intense actor. That quiet approach that Brian Austin Green’s Jack character has wouldn’t work so well if it wasn’t pushed by Ward’s Alex character, and Ward and Green (as well really shines in the film, being the voice of reason, even if it borders on extremism towards the end of the film. The surprise of the film really comes from Joanne Kelly’s Claire character. While she might initially be somewhat of a forgettable character (only because of the Green/Ward showdown), she really pulls out the stops towards the second half of the film, becoming not only a much more memorable character, but the one that really stands out and shines, as someone you want to escape the strange predicament that everyone finds themselves in.
A very well written and superbly acted thriller, DON’T BLINK is closer to THE TWILIGHT ZONE than the previous TWILIGHT ZONE revival was. Full of mystery and excellent character development, the film really stands out as a genre film that rise above being just that. It’s not just a good horror/thriller, it’s a damned good movie in general.