(By: Mark Gonzales) Have you ever woken from a deep sleep, made breakfast, driven to work, then did your job for several hours only to waken suddenly and come to the sad realization that you had only dreamt your oppressively mundane work day and that you must now do everything that you just dreamt of in real life? Those feelings of disappointment, dread, and frustrating repetition adequately describe what it feels like to watch 2018's In Memory Of…
…Directed by Eric Stanze from a script by Stanze, Jason Christ, and Jackie Kelly (Kelly and Christ also serve as producers and the film's leads), In Memory Of is a psychological horror film that strives to be something akin to Unsane or The Machinist. Unfortunately for the filmmakers and the audience, the film ends up being weak on horror or the psychological mysteries that make these types of films enjoyable to dissect and re-watch.
The film follows Amber (Jackie Kelly) as she drives to the world's creepiest abandoned building to undergo an experimental medical procedure. Amber acts against her own best interests as well as the protestations of the audience when she enters the crumbling structure. Amber gives us some trite V.O. about her life before entering the building and then awakens in a puddle of blood. We see that she is in a room filled with dead people. It is unclear if Amber is responsible for all the death and viscera that she is surrounded by but before she can figure things out, Amber starts running. Amber is stopped in a hallway by a man named Simon who tells her that she must drive to a motel by the airport in order to be safe.
Repeat the previous paragraph five or six times, changing only the location that Amber is waking in, what kind of body horror she witnesses, and which motel Simon tells her to drive to and you've got the entire story of this film. It is oppressively repetitive in almost every conceivable way--shots, plot points, and scenes are played over and over again in only slightly different locations.
In Memory Of attempts to keep our interest by slowly unraveling the mystery of who Amber is and what happened to her during the medical procedure that caused all the death and destruction. And this would probably work if not for the fact that there is actually very little to learn about her. Amber's story is as simple as you might guess it to be and the few surprises that are thrown in are so nonsensical that they elicit guffaws rather than gasps.
The second problem that we face with the film's mystery is that the information that we receive is handed to Amber at regular intervals throughout the film. Amber does almost nothing to unravel the mystery of who she is and what happened to her. Reading the description of the film, you might expect the film to put Amber on an endless chase to find the people who experimented on her, or have her evading the police, or following clues to find a cure for her illness. This is not the path In Memory Of takes. The film merely shows our hero driving, hanging out in a motel room, screaming at something, falling asleep, and then driving again. Amber goes where she's told to go, hangs out until somebody tells her something, and then goes to the next motel. She has almost no agency whatsoever in the film, leading the viewer to beg that she do anything of interest not just so that she will give us something exciting to see, but also so that we don't have to watch this painful slog of a film for the rest of our lives.
This film relies heavily on Jackie Kelly's performance and she mostly rises to the task. I believed her manic, crazed performance for the most part. A viewer will quickly accept that she is a woman who is at the end of her sanity but her performance is almost entirely one note. Moments of delicate sensitivity still seem mostly manic and crazed, as does the one moment where she seems to be in control of the situation she has found herself in.
A less enjoyable and believable performance is found in Jason Christ, the pseudo-antagonist of the story and the co-writer/producer behind the film. Christ is horribly cast as a mysterious man who is both pursuing and leading Amber through her journey. His performance is painfully affected and the decision to put him in a leather jacket with a long beard is bewildering. He looked less like a haunting spirit of dread and more like a bouncer at a Midwest goth club.
While watching In Memory Of, viewers might find themselves wondering what, if anything, this film is attempting to say. The themes of women suffering abuse for the pleasure of men, perception's effect on reality, and being haunted by one's own past are present throughout the film. But it is unclear that the makers of In Memory Of are attempting to say anything about these themes beyond, "Hey, these are things that exist, let us know if you think it means anything."
The film's most memorable moments come from the driving scenes. As Amber undergoes her cross-country trek, we are treated to some really, very lovely shots of American roads, landscapes, and roadside attractions. Seeing America through Amber's windshield gives us a nice, extended metaphor for Amber's state of mind. We are traveling through a country that is beautiful save for the man made structures that all seem to be crumbling before our eyes. All of Amber's troubles come from the failings of human constructs like marriage, careers, and science. Unfortunately for Amber, there is nothing in the American nature-scapes that can help her.
This brings us to one of the film's best attributes--the locations are pretty good. The location scout on this film is, without question, the breakout star here. The collection of run down, often quirky motels does counteract some of the film's repetition. The exteriors of Middle America are beautiful and nicely shot. But the film's inherent structural flaws and seemingly non-existent act breaks cause the film's two hour run time to drag on endlessly.
In Memory Of features a score by Rocky Gray (former drummer for Evanescence). The driving and fittingly repetitive score is haunting and enjoyable. It is the second strongest part of the film. Unfortunately, this works against the movie as a whole because the music is so much stronger than the rest of the film that the cinematography, writing, and editing seem all the more amateur in comparison.
The film leans heavily on the shock value of its more gory effects. There are images that are definitely shocking and very gruesome, make no mistake about that, but the films bloody effects are undercut by the knowledge that it serves very little. We learn early in the film that a symptom of Amber's illness is hallucinations and so every time we see something shocking in her motel room, the woods, or in her shower, we know we are watching little more than Amber's own hallucinations. Very few of the effects are frightening or powerful, no matter how loud or how often Amber screams.
In Memory Of could have been a good movie had its themes been explored, its main character had more to do, and if the antagonist had been made more threatening. As the film stands, it feels more like a first draft of a movie than a completed piece.
In Memory Of is now available on Blu-ray at Wickedpixel.com
By Mark Gonzales