Anchor Bay // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 11th, 2009
The prayers of the dead are about to be answered.
One thing has become blindingly clear over the last several thousand years: Christianity is a highly adaptable belief system. Whether it was incorporating pagan festivals into the holy calendar or giving local spirits saint's names, Christianity has thrived in most of the places it has put roots. It's also pretty clear that the religion is fertile soil for the theatrical, whether it's the magnificent robes of the Catholic church, or the out-sized rhetoric in an African Methodist Episcopal service. While cinema has often steered clear of explicitly Christian topics, it has been totally willing to embrace some of the groups who have been influenced by Christianity, especially Voodoo and other mixtures of indigenous and Christian beliefs. From White Zombie to Angelheart, the more theatrical rituals look good on film. With its inclusion of Santa Muerte, we can add Not Forgotten to the list of religious and supernatural thrillers, but it's not a particularly welcome addition.
Not Forgotten starts with an almost perfect life for protagonist Jack Bishop (Simon Baker, The Mentalist) in a small town on the Mexican border. He's got a beautiful daughter and a new wife. Then, after the theft of an artifact from a local group of Santa Muerta followers, his daughter disappears. The interim sheriff isn't much help in locating the girl so Jack goes off on his own. The journey to find his daughter leads Jack to uncover some of the darker parts of his past, parts that were better off in the dark.
In all honesty, the quasi-supernatural elements of Not Forgotten aren't really essential to the plot. No, this is one of those films where a man with a dark past has to confront his misdeeds in order to salvage the new life he's created. In this case, Jack Bishop must deal with the consequences of his former life as a hitman for the Mexican underground. There is a supernatural element because supposedly Bishop was protected by Santa Muerte, but the film is really about watching Bishop go from a mild-mannered soccer coach to a crazed murderer when confronted with his daughter's disappearance. To a lesser extent, it's also about watching the sleepy little border town get turned upside down by the disappearance of a little girl.
The idea is certainly a solid one, and I can't knock Simon Baker's performance as Jack Bishop. He really sells the satisfied, mild-mannered father figure, but he's also amazingly convincing as the secrets of his former life slowly dribble out throughout the film. The rest of the cast can't quite reach Baker's heights, but they're not given as much material to work with. We get a lot of ably played stereotypical thugs and prostitutes, along with some concerned citizens in the border town, but none of the acting is award worthy.
Not Forgotten isn't a bad film, but a few things keep it from being memorable:
* The pace. This flick moves at a glacial speed towards its bizarre conclusions. I guess the plight of the little girl is supposed to keep us in suspense long enough to not notice how slowly everything is moving, but because we don't know what, if anything, has happened to her the film needed to do more to keep the urgency of the chase.
* Originality. The whole "standup guy has a dark past that only gets revealed when his family is threatened" has been done, and done better elsewhere. The film tries to make up for this lack of originality by piling on a few twists at the end, all of which are either tired, nonsensical, or come too late to care about.
* Santa Muerte. The film hopes that this spooky little religious practice will cover the sins I've mentioned previously. Because it's so new and shiny it's supposed to scare us so we don't notice how slowly the film is moving or how many times we've seen this plot before. Don't get me wrong: there's a lot of horror potential in the idea. The problem is that unlike voodoo, which already has some scary associations for people, Santa Muerte is not likely to be familiar to most viewers. So, the film needed to spend more time making it scary before jumping into the story. Ideally, it would have been deployed in a longer work, like a graphic novel or television, to let its full impact unfold.
On the DVD front, Not Forgotten does just fine. The transfer is nothing to write home about, but there are no seriously distracting problems either. Audio is clean and simple surround mix with English subtitles. Extras include a commentary with the film's co-writers, one of whom is also the director, and there are a behind-the-scenes featurette and a trailer as well.
Not Forgotten seems like the kind of film destined to be run endlessly after midnight on starving cable channels. Stopping to watch it wouldn't be a complete waste of time, but I can't recommend seeking the film out.
Not Forgotten? Forget about it.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R