Largely dismissed by critics during its theatrical run in September 2004, Joseph Ruben's The Forgotten is a fine, albeit modest little thriller with a single admirable goal—to creep you out in the unnerving tradition of The Twilight Zone or The X-Files. Inexplicably, given my past appreciation for the work of Ruben (particularly The Stepfather) and the film's star, Julianne Moore, I missed the film in theaters, and have just discovered it on DVD. Coming from that perspective—expectations low, after the critical drubbing—I've found that The Forgotten is a shocker of fascinating thematic concerns that could have been great but settles for hair-raising B-movie goodness.
The central conceit of the film—not only losing your child but finding that everyone around you insists the child never existed—provided fodder for an excellent teaser trailer last summer. I remember thinking the film could be one of the powerhouse thrillers of the season. (I got a similar buzz after watching the Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow teaser trailer for the first time, and perhaps that's another underrated, intricately crafted film undone by high expectations engineered by the trailer.) How could the actual film hope to live up the promise of that terrific trailer? Maybe it was doomed from the start. However, even if The Forgotten doesn't necessarily ascend to dizzying cinematic heights, it's at least got a genuinely thought-provoking premise and more than its share of jolts. Tapping into—and drilling beyond—that basic human fear of losing a kid, the film disturbs mightily with its focus on grief-stricken Telly Paretta (Moore), as she becomes a bewildered victim of a seeming conspiracy, in which all her cherished memories of her lost son are being questioned by everyone one around her—even those closest to her heart. Or is Telly just plain nuts, as those people begin to suspect?
As the film begins, we learn that Telly's 9-year-old son Sam (Christopher Kovaleski) died more than a year earlier in the crash of a small plane. Telly is living a life of desperate grief, haunted and lost, and she's trying to work through it in therapy sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise). But soon, Sam begins to disappear from the memories of those around her—including her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards), her next-door neighbor and friend Eliot (Jessica Hecht), and fellow grieving parent Ash Corell (Dominic West). Ash is a bitter alcoholic who, according to Telly's urgent memory, lost his daughter in the same tragedy—but Ash vehemently denies ever having a daughter. The remainder of the film involves Telly's frantic struggle to solve what must be a supernatural mystery. And I would be lying to you if I said the resolution requires only a minimal amount of disbelief suspension—it's pretty out there—but in a goofy-grin, no-holds-barred sort of way, The Forgotten works.
Ruben infuses his film with a nervous energy that keeps you on edge throughout. It's an extended chase sequence through New York, involving weird, sinister agents—nightmare entities with a mysterious agenda who just keep coming at Telly and her reluctant ally, Ash. And, of course, not everyone is what he or she appears to be. What do we make of Dr. Munce's suspicious sidelong glances and his insistence that Telly tell him where she is? Is husband Jim somehow involved in the horror? Why does he suddenly have no memory of her, let alone his son? (Hmm, I'm still pondering that one.) Is increasingly empathetic detective Anne Pope (Alfre Woodard) for real? There is indeed an outrageous supernatural answer tying all these puzzle pieces together, and when you realize what it is, you'll either laugh or shake your head in a kind of disbelief, but either way, it's effective schlocky cinema.
And grounding it all is the human element brought to the proceedings by its talented leads. Both Moore and West are exceedingly capable actors who exude warmth and humanity, and they play Telly and Ash with a tangible conviction—despite the over-the-top schemes of screenwriter Gerald DiPego. All their interactions sting with the emotion of their shared loss and the urgency of solving a gigantic, vitally important riddle. And they're also very, very scared.
It's an emotion the film wants you to feel, but you—like many others who have already seen and forgotten The Forgotten—might prefer to laugh it all away. A perfectly valid reaction to this fun flick. Me, I love films that have the audacity to lunge for the crazy-ass idea, and even if they don't get everything right, they surely deserve my admiration. The Forgotten perhaps, in the end, explains itself a bit too much and dwells on plot points better left vague, but the build-up is more than worth the journey.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia/TriStar presents The Forgotten in a striking anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. I didn't have the opportunity to catch this film in theaters, but the home-theater experience was one of great depth and detail. And this is a scene with quite a few scenes that take place in darkness, so the image is particularly satisfying. Sharpness is very fine, and blacks are deep and satisfying. Ruben uses some jarring stylistic effects, such as high-contrast grain and deliberate color saturation, that are rendered perfectly by this transfer. I enjoyed the varying color-palette choices depending on the mood of the scene.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is quite energizing and immersive—perfectly in service of this paranoid little thriller. Dialog is clean and accurate, even during screams. The score is nicely weighted throughout the room. Sound effects are very directional, coming at you from all directions. Panning is effective not only across the front but also from front to rear, and from left to right behind you.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The DVD presentation offers an Extended Cut With Alternate Ending via seamless branching. The alternate ending is only superficially different from the theatrical ending, and in fact I will choose to watch the theatrical cut in subsequent viewings. The new footage adds up to only a few extra minutes.
Primary among the special features is a Theatrical Version Commentary by Director Joseph Ruben and Writer Gerald DiPego. This is a low-key conversation that covers the usual ground, walking through the story of the film's making, beginning with the origin of the idea and commenting on everything from location shooting to the intricacies of character. Writer Gerald DiPego talks about how the initial idea came to him in a dream and compelled him immediately. Ruben thinks of The Forgotten as an "intelligent cockamamie movie." In general, this is one of those commentaries that rarely pitches into anything resembling enthusiasm, but the participants offer some low-key, mumbling insight.
The lightweight but informative 20-minute Remembering the Forgotten featurette talks about the origin of the film's story—so you get some redundancy from the commentary. Director Joseph Ruben chimes in to talk about his appreciation of the plot, as do several other crew members. Then we get a generous amount of behind-the-scenes footage and discussions about the setting. Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards, and Alfre Woodard all discuss their characters, as well as the emotional elements of the story and how it connected with them. Linus Roache also appears, talking about his mysterious character. The film's effective special effects are discussed toward the end of the piece. One warning: Don't watch this featurette before you watch the movie. It's crammed with spoilers.
The 14-minute On the Set: The Making of The Forgotten is the disc's requisite EPK featurette. The cast and crew give the usual sound-bite interviews, in the interest of selling the film. Still, there's some fun behind-the-scenes footage to see.
Under Deleted Scenes, you get the 9-minute Alternate Ending in standalone form, the 30-second The Abduction (which offers a strange fate for Anthony Edwards), and the 3-minute The Kiss (which adds some extra romantic subtext).
You get two trailers for The Forgotten, but unfortunately the first theatrical teaser that was released—arguably the film's most effective trailer—isn't on this DVD. All you get are the second Theatrical Teaser and the final Theatrical Trailer.
Finally, you get anamorphic-widescreen Previews for Are We There Yet?, Guess Who, The Grudge, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, Spanglish, Little Black Book, Boogeyman, and The Fifth Element: Ultimate Edition.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Despite its lukewarm reception in theaters last fall, The Forgotten is a lost gem of a thriller that's certainly worth a look. Its premise is wicked, and even though its resolution is out there and more than a little indulgent, it's a satisfactory B flick boasting several pulse-pounding shocks, well-drawn characters, and the balls to really go for it. You've gotta admire that. And the DVD presentation is good if not great. Image and sound—the most important elements—are admirable, and supplements are midlevel. Give this disc a spin!