• In Memory Of

    Released by: Wicked Pixel
    Director: Eric Stanze
    Cast: Jackie Kelly, Jason Christ, Adam Ahlbrandt, Haley Madison, Emilie Haack, D.J. Vivona
    Year: 2018

    Eriz Stanze’s latest feature starts with an intense pre-credits sequence wherein we meet a beautiful blonde woman whose internal narration gives us some background on her situation. She suffers from a disease, the same disease that killed her mother. Her father abandoned her and she was raised by her aunt. She had an otherwise happy childhood but that was all in the past. In the present, she had recently arranged to meet some people at a ‘secret location’ but clearly something went wrong as she wakes up in an old abandoned factory surrounded by dead bodies and covered in blood.

    A man attacks her but she stabs him in the eye with a pair of scissors and escapes only to get grabbed by another man, Simon (Jason Christ), who tells the woman we learn is named Amber (Jackie Kelly) that she has to get out of here. There’s a price to pay, she is valuable to ‘them’ and they want to profit from her. He tells her to go to a motel room where she’ll retrieve a pocket watch.

    We flash back and learn that her boyfriend Darren (Adam Ahlbrandt) and a girl named Jennifer (Haley Madison) used her. Darren put her up to this, they needed the money after all, and prior to that he had pressured her into prostituting herself. As she remembers this at the hotel room she flips out and has a breakdown. We see her and Simon tied up in the old factory where she woke up covered in blood.

    From there, we cut to a scene where a man named Barry (D.J. Vivona) shows up at Amber’s apartment having expected to get to fuck her in exchange for some money. Amber doesn’t seem to know what’s going on, who he is or why he’s there and eventually he leaves. Darren shows up and they talk. He admits to screwing up, but it was only one time – and then we see another flashback and find out that he was screwing Jennifer. She tells Darren she’s scared, doesn’t want to go do this alone, and from here, as the plot plays out, we learn that the experimental drug Amber agreed to take to treat her disease has had some serious side effects and wreaked havoc with her memory.

    She needs to find the man that created the drug and used it on her to try and set things right, but of course, that’s going to be much easier said than done. Before it’s all over we’ll see her pushed through a nightmarish asylum by a woman named Haley (Emily Haack) who may or may not have ties to her convoluted past, we learn why she quit her job and about her obvious self-esteem issues, and learn what really happened to her in that old factory. She is the one, Simon tells her, who puts the puzzle together.

    Stanze, who has a small cameo in the film as an Arizona hotel clerk, also shot the film himself and it is here that the movie really impresses. The visuals for this picture are so strong and there’s so much detail and care put into the compositions that it is easy to get lost in the imagery. The fact that Amber has to travel across various states gives the movie the opportunity to show off a wide variety of locations – and my God, the location work in this film is flat out amazing. From the opening scene in the factory to the deserts of the American South West, these locales have all clearly been chosen very carefully. Little details like a neon sign shot from below so that we can see the lightning flash behind it, or the way that the camera puts a handful of crumpled bill in front of Amber’s face as she’s being fucked by Barry, manage to not just heighten tension but keep us visually engaged in the proceedings even when we don’t fully understand what’s going on in the film.

    As to the acting in the picture, it’s of considerably better quality than your average indie/low budget movie even if occasionally it might be a bit less than perfect. Still, the good most certainly outweighs the bad here. It takes a little while to get used to Jackie Kelly’s performance but by the time the movie is over, she’ll have won you over. She’s strong in communicating through body language and through her facial expressions. Her eyes in particular are big and expressive. Kelly’s work here is quite bold, she’s frequently completely naked and put through some pretty grueling scenes but she works really well in the lead. Supporting work from Wicked Pixel regular players Jason Christ, Emily Haack and D.J. Vivona is also good. Of the three, Christ gets more screen time than the other two and he shows good range here – he plays the mysterious type well but also has an interesting scene wherein he plays the host of a TV talk show where he’s surprisingly convincing. Haack and Vivona’s characters are just as troubled as Amber in their own ways, both show strong range and are quite believable in their roles. It’s also interesting to see Crossbearer/The Cemetery director Adam Ahlbrandt play the sleazy boyfriend and to see Haley Madison (who has popped up in quite a few indie horror pictures over the last few years, having worked with Henrique Couto and Dustin Mills) show up in the film. Both of them are quite good here.

    The movie also features impressive sound design. While the audio is only a two channel mix rather than a proper surround sound track, it’s surprisingly enveloping and detailed. The score, from Gus Stevenson (who scored Stanze’s last picture Rat Line) and former Evanescence drummer Rocky Gray, is an unusual mix of ambient sounds, industrial soundscapes and occasionally more traditional music that helps accent tension and drama very effectively.

    In Memory Of is much like Stazne’s other films in that the picture deals in some pretty strong content (lots of nudity here, both male and female), but a key difference here is that it doesn’t feel overdone or put into the picture simply to shock. Rather, the sex and the violence in the film add to the tension and seem in keeping with Amber’s breakdown and fragile mental state – as we see all of this on the screen, we’re left wondering what’s real and what’s imagined.

    In Memory Of, Stanze’s most mature and ambitious feature to date, is a slow film. It’s not dull, but it moves at a very deliberate pace and unfolds in very small doses rather than in large chunks. It’s not a film that you can only half pay attention to, but rather one that requires an investment on the part of the viewer. Those who need things spelled out to the letter might not enjoy what Stanze and company have gone for here, but if you appreciate challenging cinema and a slow burn, odds are pretty good you’ll find the movie quite captivating.