Essentially a two-handed portrait of the barren and fastidious Kate Bosworth, as seen through the eyes of her initially bed-bound amnesiac husband (Wes Bentley), Michael Polish’s beautifully-composed film bears more than a passing tonal and visual resemblance to Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, with a good deal of Stanley Kubrick thrown in for good measure. Indeed most of the secondary characters barely register, and the reluctantly investigating detective part might have been written for Scatman Crothers. But Unconscious (known in the US as Amnesiac) is, in spite of the warm hues, so cold it verges on sterility, and ultimately it’s a troublingly misogynistic piece of work.
We begin with Bentley waking up, in the aftermath of the accident we eventually piece together through flashbacks, alone in a mostly featureless house with only his wife for company. Her coldness and borderline obsessive compulsive behaviour is belied by her eagerness to conceive a child, and it is only once he has the use of his legs back – after a first half-hour distinguished by its lengthy silences and whispered dialogue – that he very quickly realises his injuries are the least of his troubles. Before long the bodies start piling up and the secret hidden in the basement is uncovered, and even when Bentley thinks he’s worked out what’s going on there’s a further level of irony to confound him before the conclusion.
Bentley is superb as the apparent innocent adrift in a fog of lost memories, trying to piece together a life without any kind of handle upon what tore it apart, but Unconscious is undeniably Bosworth’s film, and she’s outstanding in the clinical, single-minded role that would, ten years ago, have been written for Nicole Kidman. Her iciness is offset by a deep-routed emotional drive that the actress manages to convey without compromise. The abrupt deviations into comedy whenever we cut away to Shashawnee Hall’s detective, however, threaten to unbalance the film’s carefully-constructed demeanour (Polish might admire Kubrick but he hasn’t the talent Kubrick had for balancing bathos with pathos), and the swift acts of violence in the second half often feel unwarranted and unnecessary.
And that’s where Unconscious fails; the first forty-five minutes set up a mystery that needs resolving with far more subtlety than the last half-hour supplies, and things which might have been better left ambiguous are spelled out, with the final fates of the characters leaving a sore taste in the mouth. What might have been an interesting character piece with lashings of black humour, Misery by way of To Die For, ends up a deeply disturbing portrait of modern womanhood that – as confirmed by the 1950s stylings in a modern setting – seemingly ignores half a century of progress towards equality.
Special Features: Trailer
UNCONSCIOUS (U.S. TITLE: AMNESIAC) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL POLISH / SCREENPLAY: AMY KOLQUIST, MIKE LE / STARRING: KATE BOSWORTH, WES BENTLEY, OLIVIA ROSE KEEGAN, SHASHAWNEE HALL, RICHARD RIEHLE / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 31ST