“Don’t Look Away” (2023) [Popcorn Frights]

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s the killer mannequin tale Don’t Look Away by Micheal Bafaro.

A chance encounter with this supernatural entity proves devastating for a young woman after she learns that once you see the mannequin, there may be no end in sight, except for your own. 

The Good
Joseph: Don’t Look Away is a weird movie, in the best possible ways. It is humorous without being a horror comedy, it takes its killer mannequin story very seriously, it gives us one of the biggest [expletive deleted] boyfriends ever committed to a horror movie — and that’s a big pool from which to select — who obviously has issues that are never fully explained, and it wears its influences on its sleeve without doing so in a cloying manner (not an easy feat) with, for example, one main character plainly stating “It follows,” along with at least two references to The Shining. It’s shot, directed, acted, and paced wonderfully. This all makes for a hypnotic vibe and one of the most fun movie-watching experiences I have had in some time. 

Mike: If you’ve seen and liked It Follows, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Don’t Look Away brings some of the same elements to the table giving this a familiar feeling. The Michaels (Bafaro and Mitton) opt to go the “fill in the blanks along the way” route and thus don’t waste too much time getting right into the thick of it, quickly introducing the characters and their department store antagonist. The mannequin is a truly terrifying entity despite its ridiculous simplicity, and Bafaro and Mitton do a great job of building suspense and dread throughout. The film also has a strong female protagonist in Kelly Bastard’s “Frankie”, which is always a plus.

The Bad
Joseph: For as bizarre and intriguing a film as Don’t Look Away is, it doesn’t stick the landing. Rather, some things are hinted at and then rushed past at the climax, leaving me with a head-scratching, puzzled feeling whereas I was all in up to that point.

Mike:  There’s a few spots that seem needlessly confusing thanks to some script and editing stumbles and some of the acting from the supporting characters seems weak at times. There’s a rather jarring shift in one of the character’s personalities that seems to almost come from nowhere which is either an odd swerve or just lazy writing because the story needed something to move the plot from point C to point D. 
Don’t consider this next part a spoiler, but I found the film's ending somewhat anticlimactic and unsatisfying, not really paying off the build-up of the film, making it feel like a bit of a cop-out. This could leave you, like me, feeling a bit let down.

The Verdict
Joseph: Infused with dread and eeriness throughout, Don't Look Away is a supernatural chiller with a strong, smart protagonist character and loads of great set pieces. The Michaels keep things rather simple while simultaneously giving the proceedings a constant air of mystery. I had a blast with this film, which takes what sounds like a silly premise and delivers a mesmerizing, entertaining work. Don't Look Away is a contender for my list of 10 favorite horror movies of 2023, and if it doesn’t quite make it in December, it will be a highly placed honorable mention.

Mike:  A half hour or so in and I’m wondering if Pabst Blue Ribbon shot these guys some cash for product placement. I haven’t seen that much PBR in one place aside from my uncle Tony’s garage refrigerator.  But I digress… 
Despite its flaws, Don't Look Away does have some good scares and a creepy atmosphere. Frankie is a relatable and sympathetic character, and you’ll find yourself rooting for her to figure out all this mannequin nonsense. This plot sure would have made for a better sequel to the Andrew McCarthy/Kim Cattrall film than Mannequin 2 did.
All in all this isn’t a bad film - in fact it's pretty good - it’s just not as good as I think it could have been. 

Don’t Look Away, from IndustryWorks Studios and Level 33 Entertainment, is playing as part of the 2023 Popcorn Frights Film Festival, which runs August 10–20, 2023 with both in-person screenings and a virtual lineup available to viewers in the United States. For more information, visit https://popcornfrights.com/.

Don’t Look Away
Directed By: Micheal Bafaro
Written By: Micheal Bafaro, Michael Mitton
Starring: Kelly Bastard, Michael Mitton, Colm Hill
Run Time: 1h 21m
Rating: NR
Release Date: 2023