An archive review from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · September 24, 2004, 8:01 PM EDT

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on September 24, 2004, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

In the recent history of tell-all coming attractions, there hasn’t been a bigger spoiler than the trailer for The Forgotten. The premise, as originally announced, was an intriguing one: a woman is told that the recently deceased son she’s been grieving never actually existed, and that her mind manufactured all the memories she has of him. Yet she persists in believing he was real, and with the help of a man who has undergone a similar experience, she tries to figure out what’s behind it. And then the trailer went and blew some of the secret, sacrificing surprise in the interest of getting some action and FX shots into the preview.

There’s some disappointment in the fact that Gerald Di Pego’s script takes that turn at all, given that his initial story holds out the promise of an unnerving psychological thriller. Telly Peretta (Julianne Moore) can’t let go of her son Sam, who as the story opens has been dead for 14 months, killed in a plane crash. (That trailer, by the way, misleadingly suggests the boy is alive at the beginning and vanishes during the course of the film.) Her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) and psychiatrist Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise) have tried to convince her that Sam never existed—she miscarried while pregnant with him—and that both her recollections of the boy and his presence in photos and home videos are delusions. Soon Sam begins to “vanish” from those mementos, but Telly maintains her belief that Sam once existed, and becomes determined to prove it.

The stage is set for a meaty psychological drama about a woman clinging to her lost child as a way to hold onto her sanity—but then, if it were that kind of movie, you wouldn’t be reading about it here. There were also shadowy supernatural possibilities, but Di Pego goes for something more literal, and altogether too familiar from many other genre projects in the last decade or so. (More won’t be discussed here—no spoiler I.) Yet The Forgotten is a fairly successful thriller anyway, thanks to convincing performances and solid direction by Joseph Ruben, who has specialized in teasing tension out of domestic situations in the likes of The Stepfather, Sleeping With the Enemy and The Good Son.

Ruben is an adroit suspense stylist who knows how to create mood and tension without resorting to gimmicks, and his work on The Forgotten is as skilled as ever. From the opening credits on, he utilizes overhead angles both to suggest the presence of an omniscient force and to isolate the characters in their environments, and drops in occasional surprise jolts that succeed in lifting viewers out of their seats. He makes good use of New York City locations, too (no Canadian stand-ins here, thank goodness), shooting in out-of-the-way portions of the metropolitan area which add a bit to the intended feeling of disorientation.

Moore is compelling as Telly, making it easy to believe in her plight and her assertions of Sam’s existence even when most of the other characters are insisting otherwise. She’s matched by Dominic West, who brings an earthy, no-nonsense quality to the role of an ex-hockey player who is now hitting the bottle instead of pucks. Telly is convinced he lost a daughter in that same crash, and while he initially insists he never had the child, he begins to recover memories at Telly’s prodding and joins her in her search for the truth. The two maintain a believable commitment to their quest even as the details of what they find become too prosaic for the movie’s own good.

The Forgotten also feels too brief to create maximum impact: It’s only 91 minutes long, and the early scenes establishing Telly and her state of mind seem rushed through to get to the thriller portion. Her determination to find out what really happened to Sam gives the plot an anchor that helps it past a certain number of narrative shortcuts and dramatically convenient scenes. These include the final sequences, which aim for catharsis but feel instead like the filmmakers going for the easy way out. Too bad; a little more risk-taking with that conclusion might have made The Forgotten more memorable.