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The conspiracy plotline can be a hard card to play. Overused at times, or perhaps better to say badly used most of the time, there’s little surprise left if a film tries to use a conspiracy plot - it basically becomes a giant excuse to get away with anything. Fortunately The Forgotten doesn’t use conspiracy as a crutch, explaining away the entire story. Instead it allows the theory of a conspiracy to move the story forward, building suspense and making the experience of watching the film an edge of your seat thrill.
In The Forgotten Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta, a mourning mother who lost her son Sam in a plane crash. She’s unable to let go of the past, looking at pictures and videos of her lost progeny, a problem that has her in therapy. One day she comes home to discover a picture of her family altered, with her son removed from the picture. As she searches her son’s room she finds all of her pictures of him missing and her videos erased. When she confronts her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) and her therapist Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise) she is told the truth - her son never existed, there were never any pictures, and the videos have always been blank.
This is too much for Telly to take and she runs away and meets up with Ash Correll, a former hockey player whose daughter Lauren was in the same plane as Telly’s Sam. At first Ash claims he’s never had a daughter, but Telly makes him remember Lauren. Soon the two are on the run, trying to prove their kids existed and avoiding the Department of National Security, which only lends credence to their conspiracy theory. As the plot evolves, Telly and Ash start to think their kids just might be alive after all, and wonder who exactly is working against them behind the scenes.
The Forgotten’s story starts out slow, at first appearing to tell the dramatic story of a woman who has lost her child, rather then the thriller movie the trailers make this film out to be. This perception wasn’t helped at all by the trailers before my showing - all for upcoming dramatic movies, not the thriller type The Forgotten turns out to be. In fact, it’s probably fifteen to twenty minutes into the film before the story starts to take off. However, James Horner’s eerie score gives the movie just the right feel from the beginning, making what’s happening on the screen feel almost like an M. Night Shyamalan film - what’s going on seems normal, but the music implies that’ll change soon enough.
Once the film gets going it earns its “thriller” title, keeping the story twisted enough to avoid being predictable while throwing in “scare” moments that made the audience in my theater not only jump, but throw in an occasional scream in as well. One particular shot tosses typical movie rules out the window, working not because your reaction is one of surprise, but instead because you completely see what’s coming and the camera doesn’t cut away as expected. It’s a moment of brilliance that sets Director Joseph Ruben and Cinematographer Anastas N. Michos a step above. By keeping most things unpredictable, Ruben keeps the story interesting and compelling enough, and opens the film to at least a second viewing to see what might have been missed on the first. That said, you’ll notice I specifically said “most things” have been kept from being predictable. There are a few trappings the average moviegoer will pick up on right away, but fortunately their eventual reveal isn’t big enough to make that advance knowledge particularly damaging.
If I have one major complaint about the film, it’s that The Forgotten seems a bit too tidy at times. It doesn’t force the audience to think about what’s going on. It spells out important pieces of the picture, making sure everyone understands what’s happening and how it will affect the next step of the movie. This is a far cry from making the film predictable though - there's a difference between making it clear what's going on, and ruining plot twists. This film just tends to over explain each development. Everything seems to be tied up in a neat little bow by the story’s conclusion, leaving nothing to consider about this story at the end. So while The Forgotten utilizes a conspiracy theory to move the story forward, it doesn’t really add anything to its genre.
The Forgotten is a fun thrill of a movie, and during the month of September, after the summer fanfare and before Oscar season, that’s usually a nice thing to have. The film has some interesting visual choices, making decisions from the opening credits on that clue the viewer into something, even if they can’t tell what it is. The few special effects that take place are quite breathtaking, adding punch to the thrilling moments in which they appear. It is not, however, a deep movie, and after one or two viewings the thrill of it will probably wear off. But, it’s a fun ride while it lasts.