Studio: Midnight Releasing
Director: Martin Rutley
Writer: Andrew Rutley
Producer: Kate Wimbury
Stars: Jon Stoley, Katya Greer, Edwina Lea, Gemma Deerfield, Leon Florentine
A grieving mother and a murderous father link the past and the present during a shared encounter with a Ouija board.
After the devastating loss of her infant son, Kate Faulkner reacts how any grieving mother would in her situation. She cuts out pictures of Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Rader and includes them in a macabre collage of newspaper clippings and occult symbols adorning the walls of her child’s nursery. Kate’s plan is to enlist her sister Bec and Bec’s new beau Thom and to contact the other side with a Ouija board. How random mugshots of serial killers help to facilitate that effort is never clear, but the set dressing at least makes for eerie imagery. It also illustrates the imbalance at the heart of “Amnesiac.” The story is never as captivating as the film’s visual atmosphere.
Running parallel to Kate’s present day séance is the 1979 tale of Alex Clifford. Alex seems to exist in an ethereal realm of the afterlife where he relives moments of murder, insane asylums, and general horror for some reason that relates to his ex-wife and his lost son. The Ouija board more than bridges the two timelines as each reality intersects with the other and the film introduces the question of whether Alex is haunting Kate or if it is the other way around. That mystery is intriguing, but the confined execution of “Amnesiac” makes it a chore to remain invested in the outcome.
Not only does the bulk of the movie take place in one small room, but the majority of the action consists of the present day trio sitting at a table and talking. When Kate and her sister and not reading aloud the letters spelled by the Ouija board’s planchette, they are discussing their family, their relationship, or the mystery at hand. The production opens up some when the narrative shifts to Alex wandering about the English countryside, but monologues and duologues still eat up most of the runtime.
American audiences, be warned. Even though the film is in English, the British accents are occasionally thick enough to warrant a tap of the remote control’s closed captions button just to understand what is being said. This is rarely a problem during normal conversation, as it has less to do with the actors and more to do with inaudible sound design when the tight walls of the one room set bounce voices into a jumble or funnel sound through an echo effect. When characters become possessed and speak in demonic tones, dialogue may as well be in another language. Staying enveloped in the psychological tumult is a challenge with Saturday Night Live’s “Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro” sketch laughingly running through the brain.
Director Martin Rutley keeps the film as engaging as possible through music, editing, and cinematography that washes the visual palette in grimy hues of jaundiced whites and blackened blood. A black and white children’s television program that features a stop motion short is effectively unsettling, as well. Not only does Rutley have a committed style to setting mood, he also has a clear vision in mind of how to deliver the story. Working against him is the issue that his brother’s screenplay works better as a stage play than it does as a horror film.
Alex is rigidly stiff as a lead character. Part of the blame lies with pretentiously poetic dialogue that makes actor Jon Stoley’s matter of fact line readings sound like a theater performance instead of a flesh and blood person. Another part is that Stoley’s embodiment of the persona is not as convincing as those in the other timeline.
“Amnesiac” is a deliberately slow building psychological drama with a fine enough tempo considering the material. The reason it comes off as ineffective is because the momentum is lost in a muddied twist that abruptly ends one storyline and forces all focus on a character that is unredeemable in the audience’s eyes. “Amnesiac” looks sharp and is capable of showing disturbing intentions with its cinematic sense. What it cannot do is inspire an audience to invest in stakes confined to one room and five people in a story that builds intrigue with all the intensity of a slowly dripping leaky faucet.
NOTE: "Amnesiac" is also known by the title “Wyke Wreake.”
Review Score: 50