There’s a certain kind of Irish movie — not that the phenomenon is limited to that country — which usually features imported stars, and carries the whiff of being primarily motivated by tax incentives and the Tourist Board, rather than … well, whatever the film is supposed to be about. “Don’t Go” is a prime example: a lukewarm puddle of supernatural malarkey with Stephen Dorff as an American writer who thinks he’s getting messages from his late daughter in the afterlife.
From the stock exploitation of a dead child as plot hook to the simultaneously muddled and perfunctory suspense plot, this is a movie that appears to be checking off boxes rather than seeking any organic psychological or storytelling logic. Even as an exercise in genre atmospherics, it’s a complete miss, as the protagonists inhabit a scrubbed, picturesque vacation-brochure milieu that could scarcely be less foreboding. Indeed, contrary to its title, “Don’t Go” seems a blatant lure to experience the scenically spectacular and culturally quaint charms of the western coastal County Galway region. Perhaps that’s the real point here — and it’s certainly the only one successfully made in this slick but dull, unconvincing quasi-ghost tale.
Writer Ben Slater (Dorff) and wife Hazel (Melissa George) are living in Ireland for reasons kept as vague as the nature of his writing, which has so far produced one book with the highly unpromising title of “The Reality Delusion.” Apparently it was enough of a hit to support their living in fairly luxe style, though that’s another explanatory detail Ronan Blaney and director David Gleeson’s screenplay prefers to fudge. In any case, they are now leaving one upscale domicile for another, hoping to escape the painful loss of only child Molly (Grace Farrel), whose recent death was a tragic accident.
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They move into a seaside manse Hazel plans to turn into a hotel — hardly the least-stressful occupation for a mourning parent, but never mind — while Ben, his muse gone AWOL, begins teaching literature at a local Catholic school. He is distracted, however, by recurring dreams or visions of a prior family outing to the beach, and disturbed by real-world manifestations of the words “Seas the Day” (sic) that keep popping up as if by magic.
Ben drinks a lot, and one begins to wonder if the paranormal phenomena he experiences is really just a figment of an imagination befuddled by addiction and grief. But that turns out to be a red herring, as do too many things here, including the intrusions of Hazel’s bad-girl friend Serena (Aiobhinn McGinnity) and her old flame Dave (Sean Mahon). Ben’s hope that he can somehow get Molly “back” eventually encompasses a very random tangle of half-baked ideas, including crows, drinking to blackout, time travel, a boating mishap, and one Ultimate Sacrifice.
All this adds up to a big “whatever.” “Don’t Go” isn’t sure whether it wants to be a frightening fantasy or a poignantly warm-and-fuzzy one. It definitely blows the former option, while the latter fails because as written and played, lead characters whose love can supposedly transcend death itself have no convincing romantic or familial chemistry. Their bond feels as superficially felt as the too-prominent local color of breathtaking sunsets and cozy pubs in which world-class musicians sing traditional airs.
Dorff is willing to look dissipated and crazed here, but the alternatively careless and on-the-nose script undercuts any attempt to create a seriously troubled character (let alone a convincing professional writer). George does not find much of interest in her role, while the support cast (including Simon Delaney as a walking cliché of a rotund, chuckling-yet-wise priest) aren’t put to any better use.
More of a genre film than Gleeson’s prior two features (“Cowboys & Angels,” “The Front Line”), “Don’t Go” is inferior enough to them to suggest such terrain is not his forte. Even its strengths are the wrong ones for the task: Attractive visual packaging led by David Mather’s handsome cinematography provides the kind of armchair-travel allure more apt for a romantic comedy than for an otherworldly melodrama dealing with parental grief and guilt.