Ten people arrive at a secluded mountain resort to find it completely deserted. With no gas for the return trip, the visitors are forced to stay and investigate the mystery surrounding the abandoned lodge.
First time writer/director, Travis Oates, hits one out of the park with his debut feature, Don’t Blink. A deceptively simple story about a group of ten friends who get together for a weekend getaway at a mountain resort, only to discover that there isn’t anybody there when they arrive. Upon further investigation, they discover food left on the dinner table & the house seems to have been abandoned in a hurry. There also isn’t any sign of life surrounding them at all – no birds, fish, insects…nothing. It’s as if everything just vanished. Not helping matters is the fact that they’re basically out of gas, so they can’t drive away from the resort & there’s no cell phone service. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, they’re all slowly vanishing…
Stars Brian Austin Green & Mena Suvari headline a cast of familiar faces that include Robert Picardo, Emelie O’Hara & Zack Ward among others. And while the idea of a film that toplines Mr. Green might not sound like your idea of a good movie, you’d be wrong in making that assumption. He really makes an impression here as Jack, who along with his girlfriend Tracy, are just looking for some down time at a nice resort with their friends. The circumstances the group discovers once they arrive at the resort might seem bland at first, but Oates has written a script that manages to make the mundane pretty damned creepy.
All of the featured actors give top notch performances here with Ward essaying an especially memorable turn as Jack’s best friend, Alex. He goes from good ole’ boy to unhinged nutbag in the blink of an eye, and he does so impressively. One of the best things about the film is the way the cast settle into their roles like that pair of old sneakers that you just can’t get rid of because they feel so good on your feet. Each and every one of the characters here feel believable, despite their overall interchangeability. It’s extremely rare to find a genre film with a cast of characters as familiar as this one has, that still makes you care about their individual fates.
But that’s not the only thing that makes Don’t Blink special. Although the central idea isn’t especially new or different, the script takes pains to allow its audience to really get to know its characters. This in turn gives the viewer a vested interest in what’s happening & it fully succeeds in doing just that. As the various characters start disappearing into thin air, I felt my tension level rising ever so slightly. They don’t disappear in a puff of smoke or with some other big flourish either, they just literally vanish – with no sound at all. It’s a very simple & basic camera technique that’s being used here, but when used effectively & with purpose, it really works well.
My biggest issue with the film (& the reason I think a lot of you might not agree with my final assessment), is with its denouement. Whether its because of budgetary restrictions or just something that was written into the script, Don’t Blink ends with no answers given as to what’s going on. It allows the viewer to decide what’s really happening and while there are lots of ideas bandied about, none are acknowledged as being the final answer. While this really bothered me initially, I began to understand exactly what Oates was trying to achieve after awhile. He didn’t want his debut feature to fall into the trap that so many other low budget films fall into, mainly offering a lame reason for whatever is going on. He wants his audience to think about the time they’ve spent with his characters, learning about them & their relationships before the horror hits. And when the shit does hit the fan, and they start to vanish, he wants his audience to feel the same terror they’re feeling. As that’s going on, different ideas percolate as to the reasons behind it all, and everyone who watches this is going to have a different idea about why it’s happening.
I did some research and it seems that Oates biggest claim to fame is voicing Piglet in the most recent Winnie The Pooh films! While I’m sure that that was a well paying gig, I’m sure glad that he decided to write/direct Don’t Blink. He’s got a way with dialog and he obviously knows how to coax excellent performances from what some might deem to be a dubious cast. It also looks really good, with some wonderfully evocative panoramic shots of the surrounding mountains. It’s the most assured directorial genre debut I’ve seen in ages. There’s very little that’s wrong with this film.
Except for that ending, but I liked it regardless. And while I really expected something different, Don’t Blink proves that you don’t need a slam bang ending to get your point across, a little ambiguity never hurts. And it isn’t a crime to allow your audience to use its collective noggin and think about things, rather than spoon feed them with glitzy special effects & the like. What I fear more than anything else is this film simply disappearing without a trace, much like its characters. It’s definitely flying under the radar, I hadn’t heard a single thing about it until I received a screener in the mail. I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a ton of promotional money pushing this movie either. But don’t let any of that stop you from seeking it out, If you see it in your local Redbox machine or on VOD/PPV, spend the $3 and treat yourself to one of the biggest surprises of 2014. I’m comfortable saying that Don’t Blink is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Color me gobsmacked!
So don’t blink – or you’ll miss it!
Don’t Blink – 4 out of 5 shrouds.
Don’t Blink will be available on DVD on October 14th from Vertical Entertainment.