What one soon comes to realize is that The Forgotten is in all but name an M. Night Shyamalan movie. It is clearly a film construed to mimic the same game of unfolding revelations that turn everything we believe to be true on its head that Shyamalan has patented in films like Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), The Village (2004) and, in particular, The Sixth Sense (1999). Although, more than a Shyamalan film, what The Forgotten resembles in terms of games with memory erasure and the explanation of what is going on is the brilliantly underrated Dark City (1998).
The Forgotten is directed by Joseph Ruben. Joseph Ruben first appeared on the genre landscape with Dreamscape (1984) about psychic dream therapists. The one Ruben film that drew attention and acclaim was the excellent The Stepfather (1987). The Stepfather and subsequent psycho-thrillers such as Sleeping With the Enemy (1991) and The Good Son (1993) pegged Ruben as a slick and suspenseful thriller director. Although, later films like Money Train (1995) and Return to Paradise (1998) seemed to allow such promise to slip away Ruben seems very much a commercial director whose effectiveness is entirely at the whim of the quality of the script he has at hand.
In this case, the script for The Forgotten is written by Gerald Di Pego. Gerald Di Pego is an uneven talent. Most of his work has been conducted in tv movies, including no less than two Incredible Hulk tv movies, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990). Di Pego has written other genre films including the science-fiction tv movie The Astronaut (1972), the psycho-thriller W (1974), the futuristic tv movie Generation (1985), the silly killer anthropologist film Instinct (1999) and the Hurricane Katrina ghost story Little Murders (2010), as well as other non-genre works like Message in a Bottle (1999) and Angel Eyes (2001). Di Pegos two most successful films have been the Burt Reynolds cop drama Sharkys Machine (1981) and the John Travolta vehicle Phenomenon (1996). Di Pegos work seems caught between throwaway commercial hackwork or else works like Phenomenon, Instinct and Angel Eyes that feel like he has attended a few too many New Age self-improvement seminars.
The opening scenes of the film and Joseph Rubens soft focus photography seem a little soap opera-ish but as soon as the NSA agents enter the scene The Forgotten starts to enter a compulsive and fascinating area. Gerald Di Pego certainly sets up an absorbing mystery and Joseph Ruben quickly pulls us into the darkness. Joseph Rubens skill is as a suspense director and there are times here that he leaves us with our collective jaws dropped to the floor the moment Lee Tergesen whispers in Julianne Moores ear Theyre listening to us and a second later the entire motel unit has been reduced to ruins, or the jolts that come in seeing people abruptly whipped up into the sky. These are scenes that come so startlingly and unexpectedly out of the blue that they leave the entire audience wondering what on Earth just happened.
On the minus side, Joseph Ruben corrals a good cast, including Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards, Dominic West and the greatly underrated Alfre Woodard, only to throw them into roles that waste their talents. The only one who expectedly comes to the fore is Julianne Moore who provides convincing emotional depth to the mothers anguish. The major failing of The Forgotten is that Gerald Di Pegos plot is severely underdeveloped in terms of adequately explaining what is going on. [SPOILER ALERT]. There is no particular explanation of why the aliens (if indeed, they even are aliens) are conducting experiments in erasing parental memory, why the NSA and some individuals appear to be cooperating with them, how they manage to eliminate so many memories (does this mean, for example, that they have to also erase the memories of every single person who has seen Julianne Moores son including her family, friends, co-workers and people they might have bumped into on the street?). While not unenjoyable in its unfolding suspense and revelations, it is a plot that is contrived in that what has been given to us is only there for the purpose of propelling the story where we are not given one iota of information more than that. It feels frustrating. However, Joseph Rubens bolt upright surprises certainly make the journey to a disappointing answer an undeniably interesting one.
(Nominee for Best Director (Joseph Ruben) at this sites Best of 2004 Awards).