As well as its obvious inspiration, It Follows, Micheal Bafaro’s aspiring urban-myth horror is unfortunately reminiscent of the shortlived UK gameshow Touch the Truck. After being shadowed by a leering mannequin that eventually slaughters all who see it, student Frankie (Kelly Bastard) and friends belatedly realise that the only way to stop it teleporting around merrily is never to take their eyes off it. Sleep is no longer an option.
In fact, we are nearly two-thirds in to Don’t Look Away when the rules are disclosed; until then, the mannequin’s modus operandi is not clear. “It moves without moving. One minute it’s there, the next …” Opening with brutal authority with an intro in which the dummy is liberated from the back of a truck by a pair of carjackers, the film is stronger when propelled by this vague existential dread. The malefactor is glimpsed only as a distant, omnipresent silhouette, like the Slender Man, which is briefly referenced. Bafaro shoots this early pursuit of Frankie – culminating in a splatterhouse nightclub blowout – in a heightened delirium, drenched in score.
The closer the showroom killer gets, though, the dafter the conceit seems. At one point, its legs pop up in a lane of the local swimming pool, before dragging someone under. Bafaro shares with Jordan Peele this kind of puppetmastery glee – eventually unable to resist inserting himself into the mayhem on screen as a harbinger old-timer – but he doesn’t have Peele’s rigour, letting slip the tempo and putting half Frankie’s crew into the meatgrinder in a flurry that hardly registers.
In the end, the mannequin winds up as a gimmick, with little emotional and psychological texture – despite a rather desperate accompanying plotline about Frankie’s jealous boyfriend that lifts elements from The Shining and forces actor Colm Hill into trotting out a grad-student Jack Torrance (complete with deranged manuscript). Bafaro has undeniable technique up his sleeve, but he lets himself gaze too unblinkingly on horror predecessors.
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