IN MEMORIUM (2005)
Director: Amanda Gusack
Writer: Amanda Gusack
Starring: Erik McDowell, Johanna Watts, Levi Powell, Mary Portser, Doris Weldon
It is mildly surprising how many movies there are filed under the ‘horror’ category that aren’t actually scary in the slightest. Many don’t even seem to make any attempt to be, settling for mere surprise, shock tactics or that great old standard, the sudden loud orchestral BOOM! on the soundtrack to illicit any response in the viewer. It is a rare treat indeed to happen across a movie that needs none of these cheap parlour tricks and instead concentrates upon the task of using genuine atmosphere and story to turn the viewer into a whimpering bundle of nerves and neuroses. In Memorium is one of those all too seldom encountered movies which is able to actually unsettle the viewer and also manages to do this on an impressively modest budget.
The story centres around a young man who having been diagnosed as having terminal bone cancer decides to document his struggle with the disease and inevitable decline on film. To this end he and his admirably loyal girlfriend move into a rented house and deck it out with numerous motion-activated video cameras and sound recording equipment. Of course it isn't long before a malevolent ghostly entity makes its presence known via strange sounds and snatched images mysteriously appearing through bursts of static on the videotape. The movie the viewer sees is edited from this 'footage' and presented as reality, much the same approach to that taken by films such as My Little Eye, Under Surveillance and of course The Blair Witch Project.
This technique means that the entire film takes place within the confines of the house and from a set number of locked off shots. While this could have proved to be disastrously uninteresting, the variety of angles and sheer excellence of the editing ensure that it never becomes boring. It also has the interesting effect of frequently leaving empty spaces in the frame which seem to be just waiting for something ghastly to fill them. That this rarely happens is testament to writer/director Amanda Gusack's good sense not to overdo the more supernatural elements of the film. In fact there are very few special visual effects used and very little in the way of gore and the film is all the better for it. A sense of palpable menace and dread is established naturally through the tight and minimalist script which only falters with a few moments of rather forced exposition. In fairness however this is only noticeable due to the fact that the film is presented as 'reality'.
Much credit must also go to the two leads, McDowell and Watts playing the unfortunate lovers. They give a consistently convincing performance which does wonders for establishing the reality of the situation. They are also able to pull off the trick of making a film about a man dying of cancer not entirely morbid. They interact like you would imagine a couple in their situation would - not all hysterical histrionics but a sort of grim acceptance coupled with an undercurrent of terrified despair. Johanna Watts in particular impresses with her affecting and layered performance as the woman forced to watch her lover deteriorate and eventually die.
The atmosphere created by the excellent acting performances along with Gusack's assured writing and direction is so strong that it is practically a character in its own right. The lack of any music on the soundtrack compliments this atmosphere perfectly and at times the film becomes so intense that it is difficult to watch. Impressive indeed when you consider the amount of genre films there are being made with much larger budgets that are difficult to watch for all together different reasons.
This could also be seen as a possible flaw in the film however. The subject matter is so grim and the mood of the film so dark that it is hard to actually enjoy. There is no doubt that this is a superbly crafted and effective film but its intensity may well turn off some viewers. To the true lover of horror cinema however, that can only count among the highest of recommendations. In Memorium is an exceptional film, it is terrifying, intelligent and moving, all the things any horror film should aspire to be.