A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Don't Tell a Soul is an emotional, sharply made thriller with elements of dark humor; it tackles violence and bullying. Violence can be intense, with guns and shooting, deaths, brutal fighting (punching, bloody face, slamming up against wall, choking, strangling, biting, hitting with blunt objects, a teen knocked unconscious, etc.), bullying, someone getting trapped in a deep hole, and more. Language is also extremely strong and frequent, with countless uses of "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "p---y," "bitch," etc. A teen party features drinking and cigarette smoking, a teen character regularly smokes cigarettes, and a younger teen tries pot (and coughs violently). A character is dying of lung cancer from secondhand smoke. While there's not too much sexual content, a teen girl is said to perform sexual favors for money, and a pinup picture of a topless woman is seen on a wall. Jack Dylan Grazer, Fionn Whitehead, and Rainn Wilson co-star.
What's the story?
In DON'T TELL A SOUL, 14-year-old Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer) lives with his bullying older brother, Matt (Fionn Whitehead), and their mother, Carol (Mena Suvari), who's couch-ridden and sick with lung cancer. Matt recruits Joey for a mission, forcing him to break into an elderly woman's house, which is being fumigated, and steal her secret stash of cash. Joey succeeds, but they're discovered by security guard Hamby (Rainn Wilson) and chased. In the process, Hamby falls into a disused, 20-foot well and breaks his ankle. Matt wants to leave him there, but Joey isn't so sure. He sneaks back to bring Hamby food and medicine, even though he's afraid of what might happen if Hamby gets out. Nevertheless, there's far more to Hamby than anyone realizes.
Is it any good?
As lean and mean as they come, this sharp, emotional thriller is centered on just four characters and a couple of spare locations, and yet it wryly uncoils a surprising number of shocks and layers. An impressive directing debut by screenwriter Alex McAulay (Flower), Don't Tell a Soul is, at its core, a portrait of violence passed down through families. Every character here is a victim, and, ultimately, a perpetrator of violence -- and yet they're all really just looking for love. Joey's relationship with Hamby becomes something of a father-son one, although it constantly shifts between revealing and hiding, threatening and comforting.
Wilson gives the movie's most astute performance; it's almost as if he's playing chess. He makes viewers totally understand why Joey might like him or trust him. And Grazer, who's best known for It, It Chapter Two, and Shazam!, offers another solidly likable turn here. It's hard to take Whitehead as the bully; he's so brutal that it's easy to hate him, but he carries his pain effectively. Starting off with a Jane Austen quote ("What strange creatures brothers are!"), McAulay's filmmaking is snappy but also scruffy, falling back into a lived-in, wintry, dead-leaf look. His script may not entirely, completely hold water, but it certainly feels genuinely unexpected and touching.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Don't Tell a Soul's violence. Is it meant to be shocking or thrilling? How does the movie demonstrate violence being passed down through families?
How is bullying depicted? Is the response to it here effective? What are other possible responses to bullying?
The movie is about a choice between taking money or saving someone's life. What choice would you make? Why?
What are the consequences of cigarette smoking in this movie?
- In theaters: January 15, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: January 15, 2021
- Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mena Suvari, Rainn Wilson
- Director: Alex McAulay
- Studio: Saban Films
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 83 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, some violence, teen drug use and a sexual reference
- Last updated: January 15, 2021
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