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Forgetting the Girl

D: Nate Taylor / 85m

Cast: Christopher Denham, Lindsay Beamish, Elizabeth Rice, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Phyllis Somerville, Joel de la Fuente, Caitlin Carmichael, Holley Fain

Head shot photographer Kevin Wolfe (Denham) has a small studio from which he runs his business, aided by make up assistant Jamie (Beamish).  Kevin is looking for the right girl to settle down with but he’s socially awkward, quick to assume a “connection” with the women he does date, and unable to deal with the emotional fallout when his mostly short-lived romances come to an end.  In order to deal with the negative feelings he experiences, he has developed a system of forgetting, a way in which he can erase the bad memories of that person from his mind.

Kevin is also trying to deal with the memory of the death of his sister, Nicole (Carmichael) as a young child.  He feels responsible as he was there when it happened but he can’t fully remember all the details.  He asks his grandmother (Somerville) about it but she’s as haunted by the event as he is, and resists his enquiries, leaving him to deal with this childhood trauma as best he can.  When Kevin asks out Adrienne (Camp), a client, his surprise at her agreeing to see him causes him – as usual – to make more of the relationship than is actually the case and he quickly ruins things between them.  He tries to make amends but Adrienne tells him in no uncertain terms that they can’t be a couple.

Kevin tries to forget Adrienne but some time later he receives a visit from her sister, Denise (Fain).  Adrienne is missing, and Kevin is one of the last people to have seen her.  Kevin is unable to help and throws himself into his work in an effort to further erase Adrienne from his memory.  One of his clients, Beth (Rice) agrees to go out with him.  They go to the theatre and later Beth invites Kevin into her apartment for a nightcap.  He tries to force himself on her, believing again that they have a “special connection”.  Beth is frightened and pushes him away; Kevin leaves, thinking he’s ruined everything.

Through all this, Jamie has been struggling with her feelings for Kevin, and her sense of self-worth which is pushing her toward suicide.  One night, she takes the plunge and reveals her feelings to Kevin.  At first he’s receptive, but he still has hopes of getting back with Beth.  Unable to deal with the mixed emotions he’s feeling, Kevin decides to resort to an extreme solution in order to resolve his growing problems.

Forgetting the Girl - scene

Shot and framed as a video diary, Forgetting the Girl is a fairly straightforward thriller tricked out with overt psychological trimmings.  It has that low-budget indie feel that relies on short scenes, mannered performances and sometimes oblique direction.  As an exercise in paranoid psychosis it’s not entirely convincing, but features a handful of facile performances, not the least of which is Denham’s as the eerily blank-faced Kevin, his emotions buried so far behind his eyes you have to wonder if he really feels anything at all.  His speech is often short, clipped almost, as if by saying too much he’ll lay himself open to people in ways he won’t be able to control (and yet he wants to be “normal”, to have that everyday interaction everyone else has).

With such a tightly-wound character as its focus, the movie only rarely strays away from Kevin, focusing more and more on Jamie only as the movie progresses towards its tragic conclusion (and as a necessity).  This broadening of the story is at odds with Kevin’s video diary confession – how can he know even half of what’s been happening with her? – but provides a much needed contrast from Kevin’s subdued susceptibilities.  They’re a couple waiting to implode together, and Peter Moore Smith’s screenplay, based on his own story, has a dreadful fascination about it as these two damaged individuals use each other to achieve (temporary) happiness.

Forgetting the Girl works well as an examination of one man’s attempt to control the emotional content of his life, but in true indie style, it pays little attention to the standard thriller elements that it presents, opting to downplay these elements in favour of more exacting expressions of personal angst.  It’s not until the final twenty minutes that the introspection and clever insights give way in favour of a denouement that demands a final twist (that, sadly, doesn’t come).  Adrienne’s disappearance is used to point suspicion at secondary character Tanner (Sparks), but this attempt comes across as a little too pat, and long-time thriller fans won’t be fooled at all.  And the truth about what happened to Nicole, though left unrevealed until late on, is a little too predictable to provide the resonance that’s needed later on.

Denham captures Kevin’s slow-burn detachment with precision, offering a performance that is by turns creepy and sympathetic.  As the desperately lonely Jamie, Beamish uses her character’s punk clothing and make up to point up the emotional defences she uses to stop herself from being hurt, and the supporting cast flesh out their characters appropriately.  But, ultimately, this is Denham’s movie from start to finish, ably encouraged and directed by Taylor, and at times, frighteningly realistic in his attempts to prove he can “connect”, when in truth he never will.

Rating: 7/10 – Denham’s superb central performance anchors the movie and is often unnerving to watch; with an unexpectedly powerful last act redeeming the more pedestrian aspects of the rest of the movie, Forgetting the Girl emerges as a small-scale winner deserving of a wider audience.