A single character separates Don’t Tell a Soul from the faintly intriguing but predictable thriller it could be and the borderline-irresponsible one that it is. We’ll get there in a moment, but in the meantime, here is quite the corker of a premise: A pair of brothers have planned a burglary, but neither accounts for the security guard who will spot them, give chase, and land himself in a 20-foot-deep hole. There is a little more to the plot than that, but one must give writer/director Alex McAulay a bit of credit where it is due, in that the extent of the plot that results from this set-up leaves all nonsense on the welcome mat.

The cast is almost the opposite of an ensemble. The brothers are Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer), who becomes something of a conflicted protagonist over the course of the movie, and Matt (Fionn Whitehead), who is the leader of the whole operation. Their father died some time ago, under heavily suspicious circumstances, and meanwhile, the two take care of their mother Carol (Mena Suvari), who is slowly dying from lung cancer. The security guard is a man calling himself Hamby (Rainn Wilson), who tumbles down a hole during a foot chase.

Joey is wracked with guilt. Matt is, to say the least, not. Returning to the hole, Joey tries to help the man without his brother’s knowledge. There is, as there must always be in movies like this, a problem: Hamby isn’t who he claims to be.

That should be obvious to just about anyone who has ever seen a movie like this one, involving a couple of hapless heroes, an enigmatic stranger and a fateful coincidence that brings them together. It plays out almost exactly as one might anticipate, with Joey returning often to gift Hamby with supplies, Matt suspecting his younger brother’s duplicity and Hamby concealing the horrifying secret that must inevitably come out.

The proceedings, then, are pretty rote and forgettable in every way – except one – that counts, relying on a few serviceable performances and some fittingly drab cinematography that certainly reflects the dour circumstances of the plot. Grazer is solid as the impressionable Joey, who must juggle questionable father-figure moves from both his brother and the mystery man at the bottom of the hole, but Wilson is almost egregiously miscast and uneven in his attempts to be both unassuming and, when the time comes, threatening (Suvari’s job to act existentially exhausted until Carol is finally given something to do in the final scenes).

The grenade thrown into the works is the inescapable fact that Matt is a thoroughly and pervasively discomforting character in his every moment on-screen. He abuses Joey and even his own mother in every way – physically, psychologically, emotionally – and though Whitehead exhibits an intensity in the role that commands the screen, the actor is also unable to find anything resembling humanity in this character. It’s one terrifying note, played with technical skill but neither depth nor range. This is such a detestable young man, with cold eyes and no heart, that any attempt by the film’s final act to introduce humanity to the character falls flat almost on principle.

McAulay’s mistaken surety that we might forgive the inclusion of a character as completely horrible as Matt – and horrible in ways that transcend any conversation about whether the character is “interesting” – is fatal to an otherwise bland thriller that never takes off in the way it wants to. Without that one element, Don’t Tell a Soul is still a big pile of nothing. With it, the movie gains an even more significant problem.

Summary
Wilson is almost egregiously miscast and uneven in his attempts to be both unassuming and, when the time comes, threatening.
40 %
Six Inches Deep
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