Remembering is hard for Wes Bentley in “Amnesiac,” but viewers will find it easy to forget this ineffectual mystery-thriller. Helmer Michael Polish and his spouse-star, Kate Bosworth, were reportedly attracted to the project for the change-of-pace role it afforded her. But even beyond its sketchy screenplay, the pic’s main problem is that Bosworth lacks the villainous authority required to make Mike Le and Amy Kolquist’s tricky if undercooked screenplay work. Theatrical launch on Aug. 14 at Los Angeles’ Arena Cinema is unlikely to do much more than raise “Amnesiac’s” profile a tad for its simultaneous home-format release.
After a brief prelude showing an apparent nuclear family unit driving along a country road prior to an accident, Bentley’s nameless character wakes up in an expansive, isolated home under the care of a likewise unnamed woman (Bosworth) who says she’s his wife. He has no memory of their life together, let alone how he wound up with head trauma and a broken leg in this bed.
Despite all the cooing ministrations, our protag finds wifey’s bedside manner unconvincing, as well he might. Whenever he hobbles downstairs to explore the curiously under-furnished environs, she over-enthusiastically ushers him back to his room, possibly administering sedatives to keep him there. (A veterinarian by trade, she at one point ominously notes, “I put things to sleep for a living and they don’t wake up.”) When he finds a plastic-wrapped corpse in a basement cabinet, her response grows considerably more aggressive, encompassing restraints and electroshock therapy. Later he discovers he’s not the only living captive in the house. Meanwhile, the initially fragmentary flashbacks gradually reveal how things got to this less-than-pretty pass.
Psychological and narrative backgrounding remain rudimentary, however, with far more attention given over to repeated, thwarted escape attempts that fail to stir much suspense. Nor does the perfunctory addition of a couple of additional victims: a postman and a policewoman unlucky enough to drop by when Bosworth is busy being malevolent. There are numerous red herrings that add little to the core story, while some gratuitous eccentricities (like Bosworth performing a very bloody task while clad in a matronly white fur coat) seem airlifted in from an old-school Polish joint like “Twin Falls Idaho” or “Northfork.”
Why does Bosworth’s character seem to exist in her own vaguely 1930s style universe, while others (notably an ostentatiously bored Shashawnee Hall as a police detective who verrrrry slowly prepares to arrive in the climactic nick of time) exist in the here and now? Such fillips seem to be the director’s way of placing his idiosyncratic stamp on a film that (unlike most prior efforts) he didn’t have a hand in writing, but rather than seeming delightfully odd or enigmatic, they simply come off as irrelevant.
Bentley does well under the circumstances, but Bosworth, as a figure situated somewhere between Nicole Kidman in “The Others” and Kathy Bates in “Misery,” is well out of her depth. Her little-girl-whisper line delivery is monotonous; her ability to perform (albeit offscreen) impressive feats of adult-body-dragging and so forth is dubious, as we never buy the madness roiling under this character’s overly put-together surface. At best, she seems like a girlish ingenue play-acting a glam femme fatale, when she needs to suggest something far more berserk. An inspired central performance might have made it possible to overlook “Amnesiac’s” many plot holes and other deficiencies, but the result instead is to highlight them.
Though limited to a few settings, the production is polished, with painterly lighting effects from Jayson Crothers’ lensing the most notable (if not necessarily tonally appropriate) element in the design package.