(director/writer: Chad Hartigan; screenwriters: Mattson Tomlin / Aja Gabel (short story); cinematographer: Sean McElwee; editor: Josh Crockett; music: Keegan DeWitt; cast: Olivia Cooke (Emma), Jack O’Connell (Jude), Soko (Samantha), Raúl Castillo (Ben), David Lennon (Tim), Mackenzie Cardwell (Cat Girl); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lia Buman /Chris Ferguson/Tim Headington/Rian Cahill/Brian Kavanaugh-Jones/Mattson Tomlin; IFC Films; 2020-USA/Canada)

“Grim but beautifully made film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Cyprus-born filmmaker Chad Hartigan (“This is Martin Bonner”/”Morris from America”) helms this emotionally charged pandemic romance (we’re talking about a fictional mysterious pandemic (called NIA-neuro-inflammatory affliction), where the world population for no reason has its victims lose their memories.

It’s based on a short story from 2011 by Aja Gabel and is written by Mattson Tomlinas as a sci-fi romance. The intriguing film asks whether it’s possible to forget that you love someone, as your memory slowly slips away.

The film reminds one of Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” as the protagonist here writes notes to himself on the back of Polaroids as the protagonist in the 2001 film wrote notes to himself as reminders.

It tells its tale through the lives of a young newly married couple from Seattle, Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell), on how they deal with the disease. Emma, a vet tech at a Seattle animal shelter, will narrate, reading from notes she kept in a notebook during the outbreak. The narration takes us to flashbacks in different time periods and covers the difficulties the disease causes.

The couple got engaged in the fish section of a pet store. When Jude, a photographer and former addict but now clean, contracts the disease soon after their marriage and manifests those Alzheimer’s signs, the couple struggle to recover their love in this grim but beautifully made film.

In the couple’s small circle of friends,
songwriter and bass guitar player Ben (Raúl Castillo) and his girlfriend singer Samantha (Soko) are effected, and we follow their plight.

It’s a dementia story using the cover of sci-fi, as it gives us a damning story about what happens when you lose contact with your memory, your past, those around you and what you love. It lets us ponder how memories shape our lives. It’s a film that asks a lot of questions and philosophizes about life, but doesn’t sugarcoat things as it  tries to keep things real. Its main strength is that it’s sensitively made.

It’s a haunting film with a delicious matching haunting musical score by Keegan DeWitt. Though its science story doesn’t register as a true one, its painstaking love story has genuine feelings.