Amnesiac is small film, apparently by design. Directed by indie veteran Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer, Twin Falls, Idaho) and starring Kate Bosworth (who also happens to be Polish’s wife), the film uses minimal locations, minimal cast, and minimal blood for a story that, in another director’s hands, could play like Grand Guignol. But this sense of restraint—which, combined with some stylish choices on Polish’s part, can be quite elegant—is also what makes it largely forgettable.
Perhaps if the story were startlingly original, or even an exceptionally clever twist on a conventional genre tale, Amnesiac would be a superior thriller. That’s not to say it’s dumb. It’s just conventional, a more muted take on captivity stories in the Misery vein. After a clearly ominous opening scene, an unnamed man (Wes Bentley) wakes up in bed with no memory of who or where he is, the first of several times this will happen over the course of the film. From the beginning, things seem off: The women who claims to be his wife (Bosworth), who also claims to have been in the accident, is completely unharmed. The teenage girl who appears in Bentley’s fever dreams is nowhere to be found. The house where they live is practically devoid of furniture. It’s all very portentous, and soon enough the ketamine gets brought out, the basement torture chamber is discovered, and the film gets down to its violent business.
It’s not gory, though; in what was clearly a deliberate aesthetic choice, the film’s more shocking scenes are tempered by a relative lack of blood. When Bosworth carves up an unexpected visitor with an electric knife in one scene, all that results is a chic bit of splatter on her face and fur coat. It fits her character, who is poised and polished and perfect in that way that immediately telegraphs “ice cold killer” in movies like these. Bosworth keeps the character eerily calm and even—she gives little to no information about herself, instead preferring to speak in Snapple-cap facts that grow darker and darker as the plot unfolds—but doesn’t quite convey the madness that surely must be churning under her character’s placid surface.
Attentive viewers will notice little details that make Amnesiac intriguing; Bosworth’s family-obsessed character does not wear a wedding ring, for example, while Bentley’s does. But as the film comes to an end and the plot, heretofore revealed in drips and drops, comes gushing out of the mouth of a supporting character, all those little pieces don’t quite combine into a satisfying whole. This is mostly a matter of character development, as we leave the movie still not knowing either of these people whose identities have been at the center of the film’s mystery.
It’s too bad that Amnesiac seems almost designed to be forgettable, since when observed closely, it’s a well shot, well directed little film. Several moments are quite striking, like a vertical shot of Bentley crawling on his hands and knees across a bedroom floor and another of a white coat-clad doctor silhouetted against blinding sunlight streaming through a hospital room window. Polish’s visual talents are very much on display here, effectively using light and space to evoke a timeless quality supported by a carefully chosen mix of period details. But without a compelling story to reel them in, the trick will be getting people to look up from their phones and notice.