Studio: XLrator Media
Director: Michael Polish
Writer: Mike Le, Amy Kolquist
Producer: Lucas Jarach, Richard Halpern, Jason Price
Stars: Kate Bosworth, Wes Bentley, Shashawnee Hall, Olivia Rose Keegan, Mia Barron, Richard Riehle, Patrick Bauchau
A man with amnesia comes to believe he is being held against his will by a mysterious woman claiming to be his wife.
A neck that cannot stop swiveling towards the girl in the back. A crease between the eyebrows while looking at the woman up front. These are the first two clues of concern on an unidentified man’s face that this might be more than an idyllic family on a Sunday spin in their vintage automobile.
Before the source of his consternation can put up additional hints, the man’s distracted head makes one too many sidelong turns. Following a devastating crash, the man wakes in a spacious house where the woman from his passenger seat tends to his wounds in the role of comforting wife. The man has no recollection of her, and only barely-there flashes of the little girl. Although his memory is slow to recover, his limping leg isn’t. Once the man is able to explore the house on his own, the secrets he uncovers lead him to believe that all is not as he has been told.
“Amnesiac” is a bit of a genre juggler, with balls in the air of psychological suspense, slow-burn mystery, even period drama, though the movie is hazy on what that period is. Think of the “Bates Motel” television series as a point of reference. The setting is seemingly contemporary, yet a throwback wardrobe and anachronistic props make pinpointing an exact era impossible.
Properly identifying the character roster is also impossible. None of the prime players are given first or last names, a conceit speaking loudly to the depths of the personalities. Even the detective assigned to the case refers to himself as “the detective assigned to the case.”
Interestingly, Shashawnee Hall’s understated performance as that detective nearly steals the spotlight from headliners Kate Bosworth and Wes Bentley. Hall excels as a distracted police investigator too disinterested to look up when a subordinate officer reports, yet reluctantly willful enough to keep a curious eye cocked when it comes time to dutifully do his job.
As the woman, Kate Bosworth has a subtly distinctive persona by at least exhibiting the tic of spouting random historical trivia, usually related to dates or numbers, and usually at odd intervals. Bosworth coolly perfects the unblinking catatonia of a singularly obsessive, fractured mind. This woman makes for a quietly loony Annie Wilkes sort, though she doesn’t possess any additional flair that might fill her furtively villainous nature with more magnetism.
Wes Bentley has a rougher go at accomplishing the same task of distinguishing himself. Going so far out of its way to keep the man mysterious by crafting him without an upfront backstory, the script writes itself into a corner with an echoingly empty protagonist.
The breadcrumb trail the man follows to gradually recover his identity doesn’t burn with intensity until the half-hour mark is lapped, which gives “Amnesiac” an unusually long wick for a short 80-minute runtime. Quick snips of pre-accident events flicker here and there, but the movie is missing a time bomb ticking to propel the plot forward with desperate urgency.
Even when the man is home alone, curiously spelunking the house’s nooks and crannies, he stops his ear at a door to listen when he could just turn the knob and stare straight at hidden secrets. He never seems in a hurry, and neither does the pace.
The greatest frustration with “Amnesiac” is that it repeatedly reuses identical beats. A mailman shows up at the door, prompting the captive man to shuffle for help and hopefully alert a potential rescuer. Later, a police officer canvassing local homes creates a similar scenario. Later still, that officer’s supervisor arrives for a third round of the same scene, already a commonplace one in any imprisoned-at-home movie.
Known as “Unconscious” in countries where “Amnesiac” is a different film (review here), it’s amusing that the movie avoids one more use of the word worldwide, as “unconscious” probably appears on every sixth page of the script. Whenever one of the above instances requires the man and woman to reset to starting positions, each failed escape attempt always results in a wallop on the head and/or syringe in the arm, only for someone to regain consciousness later for another rinse and repeat. “Amnesiac” can be a hamster wheel excursion to arrive at a seen-before conclusion for a lost memory thriller. (Hint: the “good guy” isn’t happy to find out who he really is.)
“Amnesiac” has more to say with atmosphere than it does with story, filling sustained narrative pauses with long shafts of light illuminating spacious rooms and piano notes played slowly with one finger accompanied by occasional violin strains. That style makes up some of the mileage lost when the tempo and the screenplay veer off the path.
Bosworth and Bentley also manage a lot with a little, though given the bigger bullet points on their respective résumés, “Amnesiac” is not a movie that either will be remembered for. In the face of superior backwards-unfolding suspense yarns, you may not remember it either, all of which poetically befits a film about missing pieces of memory.
Review Score: 55