Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore, worked up into a lather) is a mother in mourning, lost in depression over the death of her 9-year-old boy, Sam, in a plane accident. Unable to focus on reality, Telly's mind is blown when she is informed by her therapist (Gary Sinise) and her husband (Anthony Edwards) that Sam never existed. Refusing to accept such an explanation, Telly goes off on her own to investigate what happened to her son, meeting another parent (Dominic West, "Chicago") along the way who starts to believe her wild suggestions. On their trail are the police and suspicious National Security agents who aren't ready to explain to anybody why they need to capture Telly.
"The Forgotten" (IMDb listing) opens with a knockout premise that holds the promise that director Joseph Ruben is going after the same taught psychological thriller vibe that boosted his 1991 film, "Sleeping with the Enemy." What would happen if the child you were grieving over, almost pathologically, turned out to be a hoax? Their whole life the end product of an elaborate mind game your brain was playing on you? "Forgotten" has a foundation built for thrills and twists, but somewhere in development, the material was thrashed by the stick of stupidity.
Written by Gerald Di Pego, "Forgotten" feels like a discarded "Outer Limits" episode that was somehow stretched from 45 minutes to 90. Without giving too much away, the film is tinged with science fiction, which undercuts the psychological aspects of the story fairly quickly. Let's just say that what begins as a study of the mind ends with material that Mulder and Scully wouldn't be out of place investigating. What "The Forgotten" eventually becomes isn't such a terrible thing, but Di Pego grips the audience right away with a more Earthbound story, and when the sci-fi elements start to ratchet up in the last half of the picture, the careful balance and mood are thrown to the wind.
Ruben does provide a couple of great scare moments, one of which is an incredible audience-tosses-popcorn-in-the-air car crash scene that is executed perfectly. And his ability to manipulate the material to a contractual running time is impressive in hindsight. However, as the events in the film get more fantastical, Ruben keeps skipping opportunities for his characters to react to the lunacy. Some strange stuff happens to Telly, and all she can do is incessantly whine about her son (the amount of times Moore yells "Sam!" could lead to a new drinking game), oblivious to the oddities that keep pursuing her. This results in one sequence where the roof is literally blown away above Telly, and Ruben simply fades to black. What? There would be enough movie material in the response to this incident alone, but it's left to the audiences' imaginations, when very little else is.
"The Forgotten" is aided by good performances and a creepy tone, but undone by "X-Files" leftovers, and a direct lift from Alex Proyas' "Dark City." Maybe the film's title says it best, and the picture would be better appreciated as a distant memory that never happened.
Filmfodder Grade: C-