Director: Shawn Holmes
Starring: Michael Guy Allen, Meg Braden, Julian Curi
Films about PTSD and the cost of war are very popular right now. I’ve watched four in as many months, each slightly worse than the one before. American Sniper had the biggest budget by far, the biggest star, the biggest controversy, and the best results. Next was Fort Bliss, a different take on a similar issue, a woman’s view of coming back home to the “normal” world, and a mediocre film. On a more low-budget note was Fray, a much more upsetting look at the debilitating trauma that affects our veterans. And now, Memory Lane, an indie darling that combines this common theme with a sci-fi element, and undoubtedly delivers the weakest results.
Nick is a young veteran of the American military recently returned home. His inability to reconnect with his old hometown stems from the terrible things he did overseas, and the anger he feels at himself manifests itself in anger toward others. But his life changes for the better when he meets Kayla. While on a jog, he comes across a girl, soaking wet, who seems about to jump in the river off of a bridge. Nick stops her, listens to her semi-incoherent thoughts, becomes handcuffed to her in a car, and starts to fall in love. So begins a wild romance between two people who have more secrets than they can speak of, more issues than could be solved in a lifetime, and just enough love to perhaps make it work.
But tragedy strikes just as life seems to have paved an even path for Nick, and the next few days will be the most confusing he’s ever faced. He finds Kayla dead in a bathtub, an apparent suicide, perhaps finally overcome by a past that she has never been completely able to escape. And so Nick goes to join her, electrocuting himself in the bath, not able to stand a life without his new love. His loyal friends save the day, resuscitate him, bring him back from death’s door, but not before he sees something that will haunt him. His near-death experience gave Nick a look back into the past, not a memory exactly, but a physical stroll down memory lane. What he saw there has convinced him that Kayla didn’t kill herself, that the past has more clues to reveal, and that he has to die again to find out what they are.
This film is not exactly what it advertises. First, it’s only partly about PTSD, at least as far as the surface story goes. You could develop theories about the metaphors of the plot points, but I wouldn’t go to all that trouble. Post-war trauma is only a small segment of this movie, and if that topic interests you there are better places to see that through. Secondly, there’s barely an afterlife element, when what I imagined at first was something akin to What Dreams May Come. Nick’s forays into the past are more remembrances and less supernatural, recollections brought on by the shock of dying, not magical messages from the great beyond. And thirdly, this isn’t the next great psychological thriller, it’s more of a gang-in-a-garage attempt at something that needed much more time, money, vision, or perhaps just talent.
In the summary on the back of the DVD case, it’s stated that Memory Lane “has been compared to independent sci-fi classics Pi, Memento, and Primer.” Let me refute that. I’m not a fan of Pi, even though I usually enjoy Darren Aronofsky and can appreciate that the film exhibits some original content. This movie doesn’t, instead relying heavily on our appreciation of those that have come before. As for Memento, Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending mystery is one of the best of its kind, a fascinating & forceful film that makes a lasting impact. That’s not this film, not what you feel at the end, and any mystery in this story fails to draw you in like it should. Lastly, Primer was a near-perfect indie time-travel film, a story that gives audiences almost nothing, demands their constant attention, and leaves you wanting more. Not so with Memory Lane, which in its short length quickly becomes confusing more than intriguing, difficult rather than enjoyable, and ultimately lackluster when what we thought we were getting was brilliance.
Video – Even knowing what to expect from a low budget film, the video quality of this movie is decidedly bad. It’s often shaky, unfocused, grainy, dark, sideways; the epitome of indie minimalism, but to an extreme that I did not enjoy. The picture is secondary to story and not at all a focal point, but slightly better quality would have been appreciated.
Audio – There are no sound or language options on this disc. The sound quality, if possible, is worse than the picture quality, an inexcusable flaw that distracts from the action and the plot. The video can be forgiven, but the sound needed much more attention, with balancing problems throughout and a disregard for detail.
Extras – If you’re thirsty for more, there are a lot of extras available on the DVD. The film can be played with director’s commentary. There are nearly four minutes of deleted scenes. Two short films can be viewed, totaling six minutes of footage. Eight & a half minutes of promotional videos can be see, as well as screen tests for the film. Lastly, there are six trailers: Memory Lane, Desolate, Everywhen, Sweet Leaf, The Mothman Curse, Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead.
Skip It. Given the advertised content, I was hoping to enjoy this film at least a little more than I did. The story was more of a hook and less of a continuous attention-grabber, with plot points that faded away and action that never held my attention. There are better PTSD films, better indie sci-fi flicks, and much better acted low budget movies; you should probably go find them. The video was bad, the sound was even worse, but there were a lot of extras on the DVD for those who are interested. I can’t recommend Memory Lane, if only because better options are available and the film doesn’t offer great original content. I can’t say that my friends & I could produce something better, but then again, I wouldn’t recommend that either.
☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ – Video
☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ – Replay