A doctor dedicated to curing Alzheimer’s comes in contact with a strange powder that triggers disturbing flashbacks from someone else’s life in “Memory.” To dismiss Bennett Davlin’s debut thriller as “forgettable” would be both cruel and inaccurate, although cynical crix are sure to take the bait. It’s actually considerably better — and far more intriguing — than most entry-level horror pics, marrying a retro B-movie setup with the ghostly obsessions of recent Asian extreme cinema. Without big stars to attract auds in the States, “Memory” should migrate quickly to vidstore shelves. However, positioned correctly, pic could be huge in Japan.
Project originated as a novel, and Davlin — who adapted his own manuscript — must take considerable pride in finally seeing the words “now a major motion picture” in print. Just how major remains to be seen. Whereas the book is written in the breathless style of pulpy dime novels, its short sentences punctuated by excessive exclamation points, the film version takes its time. Interactions between characters are casual, familiar and ultimately more realistic than the stylized dramatics to which auds have grown accustomed.
Like a 1950s monster movie, “Memory” opens with characters gathered around a corpse spouting pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo meant to support the pic’s fantastical premise. It seems the ill-fated researcher discovered a secret Brazilian powder that unlocks buried memories. When Taylor Briggs (Billy Zane) accidentally touches the substance, it unleashes a series of haunting visions from the year 1971 — before he was born.
After the first and most spectacular of these flashbacks (an earthquake occurs while Briggs is brushing his teeth, followed by a torrent of water bursting through the bathroom door), Davlin shows the good sense to resist the traditional gimmicks associated with onscreen hallucinations. Instead, each successive blackout uncovers a fresh shard of a stylish and unsettling mystery, a tactic reminiscent of 2006’s “The Return.”
As Briggs grows increasingly obsessed, Zane balances George Clooney-like charm with his patented maybe-crazy glint. Learning that the powder allows him to tap into the memories of his ancestors, Briggs realizes the doll-masked kidnapper he’s been seeing could actually be part of a long-buried family secret.
Even more unsettling, a complete stranger (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Tricia Helfer) shares a similar memory, while longtime family friends Carol (Ann-Margret) and Max (Dennis Hopper) both seem to know more than they let on.
Over-the-top finale would be right at home in a Brian De Palma movie, but still manages to surprise. Thrills aren’t so much experienced as indicated, although a more suspenseful score might have transformed “Memory” into a genuinely frightening affair.