Fourteen months after her eight-year-old son Sam died in a plane crash, Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) mourns her child by saying his name every morning while obsessively poring over the contents of his bedroom dresser and home movies of happier times. Yet when she’s told by her shrink (Gary Sinise) that she never had a son and that her memories are just an extension of post-partum depression created by a miscarriage, a disbelieving Telly goes bonkers, convinced that someone (or everyone) is orchestrating a vast conspiracy to keep her away from her beloved boy. As her suspicions deepen and her uptight husband (Anthony Edwards), the police, and federal agents all attempt to corral the frantic Telly, Joseph Ruben’s The Forgotten devolves from a puzzling psychological thriller into paranormal X-Files hogwash. Trust no one, Telly soon learns…except, of course, for the hunky pro hockey player Ash (Dominic West, of HBO’s The Wire) who can’t remember that he lost his daughter in the same airline accident.
Working from the premise that a mystery need not make sense so long as it keeps viewers temporarily in the dark, Ruben’s plot-holed clunker is a mushy ode to maternal devotion embellished with spaced-out sci-fi senselessness. After much running and hiding with her surly companion Ash—whose right hand perpetually clasps a liquor bottle—Telly comes to believe that Sam was actually abducted by aliens, and that all physical traces of his existence (as well as the memories of her relatives and friends) have been erased by the extraterrestrials to obscure their nefarious experiments. That Telly is merely angered, rather than out-of-her-skull horrified, by the possibility of such a supernatural scenario is reason enough to doubt her mental well-being, and as the film’s internal logic goes haywire—why, for instance, are some people’s memories manipulated (Telly’s husband and next-door neighbor) while others (Alfre Woodard’s detective) are left untouched?—it becomes obvious that screenwriter Gerald Di Pego cares less about narrative inanities than about sentimentally lionizing the purity of parental affection. West gives the underwritten Ash a gruff sarcasm that helps alleviate Moore’s histrionics, and some whooshing special effects provide decent jolts. Yet considering Ruben’s irritatingly jittery direction, James Horner’s maudlin piano-heavy score, and a bafflingly incomplete conclusion in which only a partial resolution is offered to the film’s otherworldly crisis, it likely won’t be long before The Forgotten lives up to its title.