While not a traditional horror film, or really a traditional thriller either, Forgetting The Girl is a stick-on-your-ribs kind of thing that is impressive in both its slight style and bold choices. First time director Nate Taylor balances these two extremes pretty darned well and takes advantage of the endearing nature of his lead (the excellent Christopher Denham of Sound Of My Voice) to craft a dark and unsettling story about past pains eroding the grasp on present day life to tragic effect.
The film follows Kevin, a non-threatening but not all peaches and cream type of everyman, as he makes his way through daily life as a portrait photographer. The film is built up and established around his presenting the viewer with a series of slides relating to his various clients and romantic conquests and all the ways in which those things intertwine. Conquest is a bit of a sarcastic term because Kevin isn’t exactly the smoothest guy in the world when it comes to that type of thing. While he is charming to a point, his insistence on asking every girl out that he sits for a portrait session (headshots for actresses mostly) is a little off-putting while portrayed as flirty and awkward. This balance between creepy and innocent is a strange one because we as the viewer cannot make heads or tails about it, at least initially.
Couple that with his strange relationship with his assistant Jamie (Lindsay Beamish) and all the ways in which he seems to play with being aware of her crush on him and also seeming totally unaware. This magnifies to a much more important thing (versus just a seeming knock on his character when a romantic relationship with a client goes sour and the girl ends up missing. It is about the midway point in the film where we are given a bunch of potential pathways for what might be happening (assistant’s jealous rage, creepster downstairs neighbor, Kevin not seeming what he actually is) along with a strange, unsettling relationship with Kevin’s grandmother emerging and a pieced-together story about a tragedy in Kevin’s past that compels him to actively ‘forget’ the things that upset or bother him.
It is in this odd procedure, forgetting, that you start to see Kevin’s great fault as a human being and likely why he perpetuates these lousy relationships and learns nothing from any of them, contrary to what he says. The viewer is never shoved into Kevin’s corner full-out and never told to run away from him either – it is a weird mushy middle ground that keeps his odd ticks, pathetic and sad behavior with women (saying I love you after one date with a self-centered girl, expressing deep soul connections way early with another etc) undefined as we try to make sense of what is happening.
As things progress into the final act, you as the viewer (and certainly me when I saw it) are starting to wonder where the thriller/horror things are going to play a role. While this creepy character study is compelling to a point, not knowing the score, the stakes and the danger makes you wonder when that might come into play. But as Kevin’s world starts to implode around him (after a particularly unpleasant and uncomfortable sequence with a would-be girlfriend) the train picks up some steam and really hits a dead serious and dead-creepy resolution to his relationship with his grandmother, what tragedy might’ve started his dissociative behavior, his would-be-stalker-girlfriend-assistant and what is really happening with the slide show by which we’re brought into Kevin’s life. It is all interesting and all amazing and seriously skin-crawly. The act that punctuates the last act is something I won’t shake out of my system for a bit – calm and dark and well handled.
So while the film really packs a wallop toward the end and does a good job of playing with the viewer in the second act, the film overall felt like some more hints early on or a quicker path to the darker parts would have elevated it more. Because as it stands, it is a solid, psychological thriller/horror that rewards patience and trust on the part of the viewer with a hell of an ending. But some more balance with the darkness of it all would have likely helped the ‘sell’ of the film. Hardcore horror fans may not find a way to sit with the film because of its character-study core but man, right next to that core is a dark, evil undercurrent that is worth admiring.