Theories Of Amnesia:
A Special Issue Of The Journal "Memory"
by Andrew Mayes
"Into the Arms of Strangers"
In a variation on the lost memory theme, Andy Barker (Ron Carey in a debut role), a good-looking, affable man with a likeable personality, is two years into a new life after suffering brain damage in a car accident. All is placid in his life with Erin (April Wade) and their infant son. But, because he doesn't recognize anyone from his pre-accident life doesn't mean he's not recognized by people whom he may regard as total strangers.
Riding on a bus, one day, as it slows down in traffic, he spots a woman with a strange tattoo on her back for which he feels a strange familiarity. When she turns and sees him in the window of the bus, her expression changes, as though she's seen an apparition. That look lingers in Andy's mind, bringing on erotic nightmares in which the tattoo design awakens something in his unconscious mind.
He returns to the girl, who turns out to be Marie (Alison Haislip). Once she gets over the astonishment of seeing Andy alive after a very long time, she warns him against being discoverd by Alex, the violent degenerate she lives with who is Andy's mortal enemy. But neither Marie nor Alex rings any bells in what's left of his memory.
It isn't until he attends a costume party where everyone is wearing a mask that the enormity of what he's forgotten begins to unbalance him and all he's been holding dear. In an upstairs bedroom, he sees a photo of himself in companionship with Erin and a group of strangers who, evidently, once weren't strangers.
Alex spots him and attempts to shoot him to death. Marie brings him to beautiful, freckled Sam (Juliana Dever), the great love of his former life, now shacked up with Alex. Old/new feelings are aroused for her, something more than understandable given Sam's erotic appeal and still active passion for Andy. But, now, Andy's got a big problem, and it's as knotty as it is emotional. Is his life a lie? Which woman does he belong with? And what does he do about Marie who, somehow connected, has a major hangup with him?
It would be difficult to watch this film without being aware of the low budget it was made on. It shows all too well in some awkwardly edited moments and in the outdoor action scenes which, though staged poorly, provide relief from the stultifying rooms and corridors that have been closing in on us. But forgiving the weaknesses, one can admire the overall accomplishment of a well-thought out mood piece. It also explains the film's success at festivals. Missing so far is a theatrical or DVD release but the level of its intrigue is enough to warrant either one.
The key to its effectiveness is in the casting, in particular Carey's masculine appeal that makes the triangulation with adoring women work convincingly; and the sympathy he generates for a guy caught up in a sadly tragic spiral. Outstanding, as well, is Dever's good girl/bad girl duality. This lady conveys smoldering heat and conscionable sensitivity: an actress with skill and depth whom we will be seeing more of what with 3 films following this one. The rest of the ensemble proficiently adds to the pensive, noirish atmosphere of Harris' psychological mystery thriller which he co-wrote with Andrew Putman-Nelson. He shows an affinity for long-held moments of silence that, in the right places, translate into internal tension.
Unreleased films don't ordinarily show up in these pages, but when one comes along that shows that big budgets aren't what's needed for engaging drama, we're glad to make one of our rare exceptions, all prior instances of which eventually found their way into theatres. Look for this one.
~~ Jules Brenner