Like last year’s When The Bough Breaks, the new female-focused psycho-stalker thriller Unforgettable seeks to occupy that sweet spot between Fatal Attraction and the Lifetime Movie Network. Unlike that earlier film, though, Unforgettable goes for an R rating, allowing it to fully embrace the “erotic” in erotic thriller. So how did it end up being so, well, forgettable, right up until its howlingly campy climax?
The answer may lie in the film’s awkwardly self-conscious characterization of Julia (Rosario Dawson), an editor for an ill-defined storytelling website called Chapter Pad. It seems to be some sort of crowd-sourced publishing platform, but it’s hard to tell, as Julia never really does any work. She moves from San Francisco to Southern California to be with her stubbly fiancé, David (Geoff Stults), who obviously owns a craft brewery. (Potboiler thrillers rival romantic comedies in the preciousness of their protagonists’ occupations.) Julia is one of a handful of people of color in a picture-perfect, very white small town, a glaringly obvious fact the film goes out of its way to avoid. Instead, it conveys Julia’s outsider status with such cool signifiers as a hidden pack of cigarettes and the fact that she looks great in jumpsuits, along with frequent calls to her quirky best friend, Ali (a practically unrecognizable Whitney Cummings), who never seems to have anything to do besides answer Julia’s calls.
But before Julia can settle in to her generically hunky new man’s gorgeous Spanish-mission-style childhood home, she meets her foil in the form of David’s tightly wound, ultra-WASP ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl). Although they divorced two years ago, Tessa continues to exert control over David through their daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice), whom she’s molding into a little version of herself via horseback riding lessons, restrictive organic diets, and punitive hair brushing. Julia, meanwhile, is fun, and there’s nothing Tessa finds more threatening than fun. So she steals Julia’s phone at a party and hacks into it with impressive techno-stalker finesse; inside, she finds some sexy photos and a folder marked “legal,” which contains a copy of the restraining order Julia took out against an abusive ex. (The moral of this story? Don’t store legal documents on your phone.) Tessa uses this information to create a fake Facebook account and stage a faux-damning online affair with said abusive ex, forgetting that she has A Past of her own.
Heigl is well cast as an uptight, emotionally unstable nutjob, furiously polishing silver and applying various night cremes with dead eyes and tightly pursed lips. Dawson, meanwhile, effortlessly embodies the “cool girl” and easily navigates her character’s twin modes of frantic and dazed as her situation gets more fraught. And just in case the difference between the women isn’t obvious enough, their personalities are reflected in their hairstyles—Heigl with perfectly smooth blond ponytails and buns, Dawson with loose, beachy black waves—like hackier David Lynch characters. Everyone else—well, aside from Cheryl Ladd as Tessa’s casually cutting bitch mom, they aren’t afforded much in the way of personalities, even stereotypical ones.
Director Denise Di Novi, the prolific producer of Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, and Ed Wood, seems to understand the camp quality inherent in the material. And the film’s climax—featuring fireplace pokers, duct tape, and a drag queen-worthy bloodstained caftan—delivers on that delicious promise. She also pushes the sex scenes and bloody violence further than other recent thrillers of this type, including a brutal stabbing in David’s cozy kitchen. Which brings us to the fatal flaw in Unforgettable: With its formulaic story and hackneyed dialogue, all there is to do in between moments of self-aware outrageousness is admire the decor, like an Anthropologie catalog punctuated with the occasional knife wound.