This world shouldn’t be so forgettable
Reminiscence has a budget of 68 million dollars, and boy does this film make the most of it. The set design is beautiful, the drowned city of New Orleans looks stunning and the interiors are lavishly dressed. But looks can only go so far. Remember what else was produced by HBO, looked visually stunning with a staggering budget? Game of Thrones Season 8.
While Reminiscence isn’t as bad as that flaccid finale, it is a film that completely wastes its potential. And that’s a bitter pill to swallow because Reminiscence has heaps of promise.
Rarely do I watch trailers but as a huge geek for anything remotely cerebrally charged and sci-fi orientated, Reminiscence looked to be the perfect summer sci-fi flick. Unfortunately, a laborious pacing and masses of exposition make this picture oddly disengaging and at times outright boring. It pains me to say it, especially with the concepts being played with here, but Reminiscence could and should be so much more.
Written by Lisa Joy, Reminiscence is the first solo project off the back of Joy’s success with Westworld. The tone and atmosphere is actually quite similar to HBO’s sci-fi flick but instead of the highs of season 1, this one falls somewhere just above the indifference of season 3.
The watery world we adopt here takes place in the near-future, where the ice caps have presumably melted from climate change. Florida is partially submerged underwater, looking like a new-age Venice with waterways for boats and flooded streets. The world is a nocturnal paradise now – at least on the East Coast it is anyway, with day temperatures far too hot to venture outside (except when the script dictates of course!)
With the future a bleak, miserable existence, people naturally look to the past for solace. Step forward Nick and his friend Watts, who operate a business that houses a memory machine.
With subjects sedated in water tanks and left alone with their memories, these “reminiscences” offer a brief respite from the current-world horrors – and boy are people addicted. The past serves up an intoxicating blend of desires, wishes and longing, which Nick and Watts profit from. They’re also quick to acknowledge how seductive this can be too.
So that makes the plot all the more ironic given Nick himself happens to be one of these addicts. After-hours he ventures into the dark recesses of his own memories. In the past, he became romantically linked to a femme fatale called Mae, who stumbled into his office by chance looking for help.
However, when Mae disappears without a trace, leaving a single earring outside, Nick remains determined to find out what happened. This is ultimately what drives his character, as he and Watts butt heads over the best way of approaching this.
In its simplest form, Reminiscence plays out as an old detective noir. The memory machine essentially serves as a device for flashbacks, helping Nick piece together what happened while skipping between different locales around town. As the movie progresses, it soon becomes clear that there’s more going on here than first meets the eye.
The trouble is, Reminiscence gets bogged down in constant spouts of monologued exposition just when it starts to kick into high gear. With Nick narrating his own journey, the numerous establishing shots are full of poetic one-liners and monologues that sometimes border on pretentiousness.
There’s also a constant issue with telling us what’s happened or happening rather than showing us on-screen and letting it play out. We’re told about wars in the past and even told about the rich profiting from the poor. Surely both of these could have been shown through random chatter in the streets at night? But yet, even excusing that, we can see all of this through the visual design of the city. With 68 million dollars to play with, to quote John Hammond: Reminiscence has spared no expense.
This problem extends across to the characters too. While the mystery itself is engaging enough to see through to its questionably twisty ending, the players inhabiting this world make that far more difficult to reach the finish line. There just isn’t a whole lot of depth to many of these people – beyond Watts and Nick – and there’s a profound lack of chemistry with a lot of the big players.
This is most noticeable between Nick and Mae, and that’s a massive problem given it’s their relationship that the crux of this drama leans on. That fact is only made worse by a weak and utterly forgettable series of antagonists. Not to mention a watery world screaming out for deeper meaning beyond pretty establishing shots.
And that is ultimately Reminiscence’s biggest problem – no deeper meaning. The film is incredibly pretty, with gorgeous cinematography, some impressive action sequences and plenty of lavishly dressed sets. All of that accounts for nothing though with a set of characters devoid of chemistry and a second act that drags on for far longer than it should.
With so many influences here ranging from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Inception, Reminiscence doesn’t deserve to be this forgettable.