Unforgettable and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros
Directed by Denise Di Novi
A lot of people seem to enjoy this recent upswing in Steamy Thrillers, but while I can certainly see the appeal of them in a trashy sort of way (more so When the Bough Breaks than The Perfect Guy), they always seem to have an element in the story or a fundamental conceit that rubbed me the wrong way. This new entry into the genre looks to have the same issues while also having the unfortunate drawback of no Morris Chestnut, but the casting is interesting to say the say least so maybe there’s something to this. Can this rise above its trashy peers to be the ULTIMATE trash film, or is it trashy in the less fun sense of the word? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) who just moved in with her boyfriend and soon to be husband David Connover (Geoff Stults) which seems like a dream come true and is the perfect opportunity for her to put her past behind her which involves some shit headed abuser named Michael (Simon Kassianides) who is now VERY far away considering she’s now on the other side of the country. Of course, her good luck doesn’t last for long as she’s now caught in the cross hairs of Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl) who’s David’s ex-wife and is none too happy about it; particularly when it comes to her daughter Lilly (Isabella Rice) who now has to spend time with Daddy’s Girlfriend. Tessa, the controlling and vindictive person that she is, makes it her mission to not only get Julia out of the picture as quickly as possible, but to do it in the most crew and vindictive ways possible and to worm her way back into David’s arms in the process. Just how far will Tessa go in her quest for vengeance, and will Julia be able to withstand the pressure? Will David come to Julia’s aid when the heat gets turned up, or will he buckle under the circumstantial evidence that Tessa piles up against her? Was this some sort of long lost sequel to Fatal Attraction that was shelved twenty years ago!? It certainly FEELS that dated!!
You know, I could do a joke here about the movie’s title… but no. Nope! Nuh-uh. This movie doesn’t DESERVE my rapier wit! What it deserves is to either be buried in some remote desert to never be seen again (presumably next to where they left those ET Atari 2600 cartridges), or to be forever held up as an example of WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN WRITING A MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN! Now before I even get into any of that, clearly as a white dude I’m far from the best authority on this and I will try to temper my outrage at what I saw for that very reason. There are parts of this that DON’T fill me with contempt and I think that there was something here that COULD have worked, but ultimately this is a film that uses stereotypes and misogynistic fears about women to push what is ultimately a rather mediocre thriller (also throw in mental illness for good measure) that somehow roped in some talented actresses who’s efforts alone were not able to save this abominable script.
To a certain extent, MAYBE this movie wasn’t for me. Yes, there are a few moments where Rosario Dawson almost gets naked and we do see Katherine Heigl rather joylessly masturbate at one point, but taking the scenario being presented at face value (and outside the context of who’s causing it and why), there seems to be a legitimate fear that this film is working off of. The main character in this movie is (essentially) a step mother as well as a victim of abuse, so the movie tries to explore the fears that people in those situations would be going through; that sense of paranoia where no one believes you as everything begins to crumble with no way to really put an end to it, and the idea that you’re always under a microscope since you’re the outsider in the situation. Plenty of movies have explored these themes such as Eraserhead, The Babadook, and even The Last Exorcism despite it screwing everything up at the end, so there’s plenty of great material to be mined here; especially in a genre that’s been known to be rather callous and sensationalistic with these themes in the past (*cough* Fatal Attraction *cough*). Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t do anything new with these themes and instead regurgitates the more problematic aspects of these kinds of movies and even takes things a few steps further into distastefulness; almost all of which is centered on Katherine Heigl and comes off INCREDIBLY mean spirited.
There are several ways to portray a villain in this kind of movie but I’m having a hard time coming up with one that took the same route that this film takes with Katherine Heigl. The film simply has no respect for her; not even as a villain. Sure, she’s still portrayed as THREATENING, but her competency and general power in this plot is always called into question and is frankly mocked by the filmmakers themselves. The only other villain I can think of that is close to this would be Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens as the whole point of his character is that he’s a wannabe Darth Vader with no self-control and is being used by more powerful forces around him. He doesn’t command respect because he’s not in control of himself and is mostly acting on his own misplaced feelings of betrayal and entitlement. I think that this movie MIGHT have been going for that as Katherine Heigl is similarly portrayed as someone no one REALLY respects and is acting out on her misplaced sense of abandonment, but this movie fails to frame the character in a way that would make this come off as a tragic figure rather than a sounding board to bitch about women perceived as “ice queens” and bullshit MRA talking points about evil women.
I’m gonna describe a few things that Katherine Heigl’s character does in the movie and things that we’re told she has done in the past, so this will probably constitute as spoilers. If you don’t want to know, then skip ahead to the next hilarious screenshot. I assure you though, that these are pretty gross. Okay, so she lies about being assaulted, she gaslights Rosario Dawson and fakes the kidnapping of her own child, she pulls a Mommy Dearest and forcibly cuts her child’s hair, she stops using birth control and gets pregnant when she thinks her boyfriend (Rosario Dawson’s now fiancée) is going to leave her, and to top it all off she creates a fake Facebook account for Rosario Dawson so she can get back in touch with her abuser and point him in her direction so that… I don’t know, she’ll get beat up, raped, and killed? And why is she doing all this? Why, for a man of course! You know how women are when BOYS are involved! Now the question that always comes up when talking about the villainy of a villain is, well doesn’t it make sense that they’re acting so distastefully? Aren’t our feelings of indignation and disgust at her acting like a Psycho BitchTM the appropriate reaction that the filmmakers WANT from us? So this is the point where I feel somewhat uncomfortable making declarative statements about the filmmakers intent considering I’m a guy and the film was both written and directed by women (Christina Hodson who also wrote last year’s Shut In and Denise Di Novi) and is primarily about women. Yes, misogyny is something that affects all people and , but I don’t feel like I’m in the position to tell the writer and director that they’re doing a poor job of representing women in film, and I’m sure other people are gonna make much more cogent points about how Katherine Heigl is framed in this movie. So taking all that into consideration, I will say this. For a thoroughly unlikable character like this to work, even one that is a makeshift of horrible stereotypes that many people still believe in today, the filmmakers need to frame them from a point of understanding and nuance. Not necessary sympathy and certainly not forgiveness, but if they’re gonna use such uncomfortable material that reinforces negative stereotypes, they can’t just let it sit there without context and they ESPECIALLY can’t frame it with such vitriol and mockery as this movie cuts her down at every chance possible; even having characters straight up make fun of her for the CRIME of not drinking beer which has a lot of calories. You know, cuz bitches be vain and shit.
Even if we take away the problematic messages out and try to look at it on a technical standpoint, it’s still not very impressive. Rosario Dawson is fine as the audience avatar and Katherine Heigl is almost unrecognizable in the role which is quite an accomplishment for her even if the role itself is unpalatably framed. Other than these two and the VERY brief appearance of Cheryl Ladd as Katherine Heigl’s mother (supposedly there just to explain why she’s so crazy but is not around long enough to get that across), the acting is unimpressive across the board. In particular, Geoff Stuits as Dawson’s fiancée and Heigl’s ex-husband is so milquetoast in a situation that calls for him to AT LEAST be a mediator that you begin to question why the hell Rosario Dawson is even bothering with him; especially since the two of them really don’t have that much chemistry going on. It looks fine for one of these movies (for some reason, they BOTH live in giant fucking mansions) and there are moments where Rosario Dawson’s paranoia shines through and gives the movie generates just a modicum of interest, but nothing in here is done well enough or presented interestingly enough to justify all the hateful and tone deaf issues with the script.
There are better movies in this genre than this and it brings so little to the table other than its completely wasted cast that it’s not worth your time or money. Both these women should be doing much better things with their careers, especially with Rosario Dawson killing it on the Marvel Netflix shows, so go enjoy THAT stuff instead of this undercooked and unpalatable piece of dreck. There are ways to do trashy thrillers without being offensive and mean spirited which hopefully is what this resurgence in the genre will ultimately lead to and this will be forgotten stepping stone in getting to that point which is honestly the best this movie can hope for. Just let it be forgotten alongside all those Fatal Attraction knock offs and that really bad stretch of Katherine Heigl comedies from a few years back. Remember Killers? Of course you don’t, and you’re better off for it!