Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fatal Memories (Memories Productions, Odyssey Media, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I screened the Lifetime movie Fatal Memories, which had its “world premiere” last Saturday —though I made the recording on Sunday just before the network premiere of the disappointing film The Other Man — and despite its hysterical opening and bizarre main titles (in what would characterize as “crazy credits,” the names of the cast and crew appear as parts of pictures hanging on the walls of one of the two houses around which the action centers, and the director’s name, Farhad Mann, is emblazoned on the roof in an overhead shot), Fatal Memories actually turned out to be a quite good film, a high-tension thriller with a provocative central premise even though the “mystery” element turned out to be all too easy to guess (more on that later). It opens in a scene in the home of Marjorie Parker (Elizabeth McLaughlin), a retired college professor with two adult daughters, attorney Sutton Roberts (Italia Ricci) and April Parker (Magda Apanowicz). Sutton breaks a prized bowl and, as she’s picking up the pieces, she’s alerted to a commotion from outside. The commotion is a fatal stabbing attack on her mom, and when she comes upon the body April is holding a bloody knife. April is arrested by police detectives Whitaker (Shauna Johannessen) and Martin (Michael Ryan). The arrest is filmed by nosy, obnoxious videographer and hacker Luke Conner (Ryan Bell, who’s the usual sort of nerd-cute guy Lifetime’s — and most other people’s — casting directors like for parts like this), who posts edited versions on the Internet that make April seem both guilty and crazy. She’s crazy enough that she’s put in a mental institution for a year or so (the Lifetime credit reads “One Year Later” but one reviewer cited other evidence in the film that two or even three years had passed) until she can be adjudged legally competent to assist in her own defense so she can be tried for her mom’s murder, and despite the incredibly obvious conflict of interest her sister Sutton insists on representing her as defense counsel.

Sutton is insistent that April couldn’t have committed the crime, and in order to jog her memories she takes April to various locations associated with their family in general and her mom in particular in hopes that April will remember something that will exonerate her and enable Sutton to figure out who the real killer is. At the same time, mysterious attacks start affecting the family; Sutton’s and April’s stepfather Orly Chambers (Kevin McNulty), who’s a suspicious character from the get-go if only because he’s by far the ugliest member of the family, gives April a car — and Sutton and her husband, real-estate developer Glenn Roberts (Zak Santiago, still a nice-looking man but made over by Lifetime’s makeup people so he’s not too drop-dead gorgeous to be a good male in a Lifetime film), take the car on a date night to a movie and end up crashing it after its brakes stop working. They’re alive — though shaken — and even before the tow truck arrives to pick up their car, detectives Whitaker and Martin show up and accuse April of having cut the brake line to knock off her sister and brother-in-law. Later Glenn is barricaded in his trailer office on one of his company’s projects and an unseen black-gloved assailant plugs a pipe into his air vent to asphyxiate him with carbon monoxide — fortunately he’s still alive, albeit barely, when Sutton shows up the next morning to visit him, but he’s plugged into life support machines at the hospital and his doctors decide to induce a coma. Meanwhile, a steady stream of snotty posts from Conner turns up on the Internet and gets Sutton fired from her law-firm job when the managing partner decides she’s embarrassing the firm by publicly defending her both as attorney and as a family member. Sutton takes a lot of her anger out on Whitaker, who seems to be there whenever something embarrassing happens to the family — including April sneaking into her mom’s old house and, set off by something (writer Crystal Verge — that’s really her name! — powerfully keeps us in the dark as to precisely what), starts attacking the furniture, smashing the dishes and stabbing a piece of plastic that reminds her of the attack on her mom. At one point the antagonism between Sutton and Whitaker is so strong, Sutton says to her, “Why don’t you quit bothering us and find out who really killed my mom?” “We already have,” Whitaker fires back, equaling or even exceeding Sutton in sheer snottiness.

So many spooky things happen even Sutton starts having her moments of doubt, wondering if April may indeed be guilty after all — and I was beginning to wonder if Crystal Verge was going to have April be the killer but justify her actions in some way, like either her mom or that creepy stepdad was molesting her — but my other guess turned out to be the correct one: the real killer was Orly Chambers, who had lost all Marjorie’s money in bad investments and killed her before she could find out he’d left her broke. He framed April for the crime, figuring she’d be put away in an institution and would remain there indefinitely, but when the psychiatrists got April in sufficient mental shape to be able to stand trial, Orly freaked out and gave April a car he’d deliberately sabotaged, hoping to knock her off before the trial could take place and possibly reveal his culpability. When Sutton and Glenn got into the sabotaged car and crashed it instead, Orly determined to kill either or both of them and frame April for these new crimes. Sutton figures it all out when she hires Luke Conner (ya remember Luke Conner?) to hack into Orly’s computer system to find out what the mysterious “Panache Corporation” is to which her mom’s assets had been transferred and which was a named partner on one of Glenn’s developments even though Glenn himself had never heard of them. It all comes to a typical Lifetime ending with Sutton and April trapped in their mom’s old house with Orly, carrying a knife and ready to kill them both, only April manages to get the knife away from him and Sutton grabs it and kills him to save her sister from being strangled by him. It may not seem like that much in synopsis, but as written by Verge, staged by Mann and acted by an excellent cast — especially Apanowicz, who makes April’s confused mental state all too real; she really has us believing this poor woman’s brain cells are tumbling like clothes in a dryer, and she never knows what she’s going to do next — Fatal Memories is a gripping thriller, making us feel for the characters and keeping us in suspense even though, as noted above, there are really too few suspects for the mystery aspect to be all that mysterious. It’s a brilliantly done movie and one hopes that Farhad Mann and Magda Apanowicz in particular can go on to biggers and betters!