Saturday 2 March 2019

Movie Review: Before I Go To Sleep (2014)

A woman-in-danger psychological drama with thriller elements, Before I Go To Sleep starts with intrigue but quickly slips into nonsensical territory.

In suburban England, Christine (Nicole Kidman) suffers from a form of anterograde amnesia (the inability to form new memories). Every morning she wakes up believing she is 20 and single. Her husband Ben (Colin Firth), a school teacher, patiently explains she is 40 years old, they are married, and that years ago she suffered a brain trauma due to a severe accident and is now unable to hold on to new memories. Once she sleeps and wakes up the next morning, the cycle repeats.

In flashback, it is revealed that Christine is also secretly seeing neuropsychologist Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) on a daily basis. He is trying to help improve her condition, and asks her to record her daily memories on a digital camera but to keep it hidden from Ben. Christine does start to have flashes of memories involving a hotel room assault, a man with a scar on his face, and her former best friend Claire (Ann-Marie Duff). When she questions Ben, she learns he is keeping secrets from her.

Covering the same memory lapse condition featured in such movies as Memento (2000) and 50 First Dates (2004), Before I Go To Sleep uses Christine's inability to form new memories as a slow velocity drip (and juvenile narrative device) to introduce one new revelation every seven minutes. It is evident early on that Ben actively hides plenty of history from Christine, and the film plods its way towards uncovering all the secrets in the most heavy-handed way possible.

Along the way, Christine of course does not know who to trust, with Ben, Dr. Nasch and Claire all exhibiting various degrees of suspicious behaviour, by intention or omission.

But the main problem with the script by writer/director Rowan Joffé, adapting a book by S. J. Watson, is that every revelation further undermines the entire premise of the mystery. Christine's perilous situation, once revealed, can only be enabled by baffling incompetence at a grand societal scale, from everyone in her seemingly well-off middle class life. The plot holes are bigger than the plot, the television movie-of-the-week production values do not help, nor does the clumsy flashback to just two weeks prior to the opening scenes.

Nicole Kidman tries on an English accent with mixed results, while Colin Firth never gets a handle on Ben, who fluctuates wildly between caregiver, exhausted husband, and conniving schemer.

The final chapter unravels entirely, what started as a tense psychological drama disintegrating into a mundane freakout climax followed by gag-inducing attempts at sentimentality. Before I Go To Sleep is a memory well worth forgetting.

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