I’m going to guess that the makers of “Don’t Let Go” rejected, somewhere along the line, a more descriptive title, like “Phone Calls From Dead People” or something. Because that’s the hook — and not a bad one, really — for this cloudy but often diverting thriller from Jacob Estes (“Mean Creek”). Jack (David Oyelowo), a hardworking LAPD detective, is devastated when his brother, sister-in-law and beloved teenage niece Ashley (Storm Reid, of “A Wrinkle in Time”) are brutally murdered. And he’s beyond devastated — flabbergasted? gobsmacked? freaked the hell out? — when, a day or so after the funeral, Ashley starts calling him on his cellphone, sounding very much alive.
Let’s not get into too much detail here; I don’t want to spoil the movie, and frankly I’m not entirely certain I could explain its plot successfully anyway. “Don’t Let Go,” significantly reedited since its Sundance debut early this year, seems to be missing a crucial step or two in its logic — you whoosh along on its ride, and it’s probably better if you don’t pause to ponder. And its extreme violence, particularly at the end, feels overwhelming for what’s really a psychological thriller.
Nonetheless, the film’s better than you’d expect from a late-summer offering, mostly due to a strong cast led by the great Oyelowo. The “Selma” star doesn’t get handed leading roles often enough (check him out in the little-seen “A United Kingdom,” to see the magic he can spin with a quiet character), and here he’s got more than enough charisma to carry the film. Early on, as Jack learns what has happened to his family, his face contorts with pain; you can see a knife twisting in his heart. And later, as Jack and Ashley become co-conspirators on their phones, Oyelowo and Reid form a genuine, touching connection, finding coherence at this movie’s muddy, whirling core.
★★½ “Don’t Let Go,” with David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, Brian Tyree Henry. Directed by Jacob Estes, from a screenplay by Estes and Drew Daywalt. 103 minutes. Rated R for violence, bloody images and language. Opens Aug. 30 at multiple theaters.