The promotional material for Memory Lane called down the thunder by comparing itself to the likes of Primer and Memento. It's no secret that I thoroughly enjoyed Primer. Memento I've seen a couple of times now, and it's always a crazy ride even though I know what happens. The former had a budget of $7,000 and the latter $9M. Writer/director Shawn Holmes must have been trying to set a record with a budget of $300. There's just one problem...it feels like a $300 movie.
That's not to say that expensive effects or elaborate locations or A-list talent are needed for more cerebral movies like this -- quite the opposite. In fact, the available acting and sets and props and effects were sufficiently adequate to tell Memory Lane's story. The problem is the story itself. If nothing else, about 10% of the dialogue in the movie is about how cold something is -- the weather, a bathtub full of ice, standing outside in wet clothes in the winter, and so on. Lots of "tell me" rather than "show me." Tsk tsk.
The back of the DVD case suggests that the story is about PTSD-laden Afghan war veteran Nick Boxer (Michael Guy Allen) returning home to find his fiancée Kayla (Meg Braden) has committed suicide in his absence. In a moment of overwhelming grief, Nick takes his own life, spurring near-death visions and memories highlighting details that imply Kayla's death might not have been a suicide, but rather a murder. From there, Nick is resuscitated, then chooses to kill himself several more times to induce further visions and attempt to solve his fiancée's murder. Sounds pretty good. I was certainly hooked by this premise.
What we get is a bit different, best as I could tell. The movie opens with Nick distraught over flashbacks to someone who died in combat. The limited flashback info here points to it being a comrade, and that Nick had to talk to the guy's family about what happened. Later, we find out the plainclothes character featured in this flashback was referred to as a "bad guy" was of questionable value to the troops and couldn't be understood without an interpreter. They kept him alive maybe as a prisoner? It's not clear. Nick ends up suffocating him and taking his locket. So maybe the people he had to talk to were the family of the interpreter squadmate who got wounded or died, but he is only elaborated on much later in the film. At this point, it's still confusing. Back in the intro scene, we see a woman. We don't know who she is (we find out later it's Nick's sister, not his fiancée), but she tries to calm Nick down. No mention of a dead fiancée at this point. He ends up wandering down the hall and electrocuting himself in a bathtub full of water using a radio.
This triggers the first flashback to Nick returning home from the war. Soon after he bumps into Kayla in a situation where he thinks she might be about to kill herself. She proves to be utterly nuts, but he falls for her anyway. He gives her the locket he took from the dead foreigner during the war, buys her an engagement ring without even knowing her last name, buys her a house, and eventually finds her in a bathtub, electrocuted and with her wrists slit wide open. Nobody in the movie bothers asking why she killed herself two different ways, since this could/should have been an indication that something more was going on. Now we get to the part where Nick tries to shock himself to death in a bathtub, distraught over his girl dying (the "Nick Suicide" count is up to two already). It is during this near-death sequence that we get the first flashback with some obscure clue that there might be an unknown third party involved in Kayla's death.
After Nick's friends save his life, he insists on shocking his heart to death again to get more clues. Despite everyone's objections, they ultimately help him. The visions that follow are obtusely vague at best, and provide no specific information about the identity of the killer, yet Nick seems to know exactly who to start stalking back in reality.
At some point, Nick has a flashback to Kayla's nose bleeds (similar to his own, a symptom of "going under"), finds out her parents were murdered, and assumes she was shocking herself to go back and remember them as well, maybe to try to solve their murder, but none of this is developed or built upon, which seems like the place the movie should have gone. This was the biggest missed opportunity aside from there being something mysterious or significant about the locket, and that maybe the guy who wore it in Afghanistan was also shocking himself to remember things or something -- literally any of these would have been more interesting than the non-story that develops out of it.
The suspect turns out to be a false positive, so Nick turns on and accuses his friends of conspiring in Kayla's murder with evidence that's sketchy at best. Nick's sanity continues to unravel almost as quickly as the plot, and eventually we find him waking up back in the original bathtub with his sister to whom he apologizes. He never convincingly solves the murder. We get no closure. Roll credits.
Once I finished it, I went back and skimmed through most of the scenes to see if I missed something to explain this mess. Pulling apart the scenes and arranging them chronologically, Nick comes home from war, meets Kayla, they dig each other, get engaged, she offs herself, Nick goes through the entire rest of the movie, then the few minutes at the very beginning and end happen where he's talking about visiting the family of someone lost in the war, kills himself, then wakes up with his sister. Without the added Inception-esque storytelling meta-layer, it's even less satisfying because you realize the dissatisfaction stems not from the viewer's inability to sort out the chronology, but rather because the story just isn't complete or detailed enough in the right places. The randomly loud/soft audio was no help, nor was the out-of-place soundtrack, lovely as it was. All of the nothing happening on screen wasn't deserving of the emotional, sweeping New Age-sounding string section performances in the background. If you find more to like here than I did, stick around for the extra features, including three deleted scenes, director commentary, short films, screen tests, and promotional videos.
They tried their hand at telling an jumbled-sequence story, but at its core, while the story has some good ideas (even if many were done before and better in Flatliners, and yet again in The Lazarus Effect), none of them were capitalized on in any meaningful way, the story is more confusing than interesting, the characters are rather flat, the acting isn't anything special (but acceptable considering the all amateur cast), and it just failed to draw me in. Post-viewing, the promotional comparisons to Primer and Memento feel like they're riding the click-bait coattails of those much better movies to get some free press.