Packing in a compelling story that’s part thriller and murder mystery with a supernatural bent into seventy minutes is a tricky thing to do well. Nevertheless, Memory Lane is one of those odd yet impressive little indie films deserving of a wider audience. Director Shawn Holmes gets some decent mileage from his ridiculously small budget of $300, making a flawed yet powerful, emotion packed ride. While the film has echoes of Memento, Flatliners and oddly enough, Groundhog Day, that small amount of money spent doesn’t exactly buy you always stellar acting or prime locations to shoot in.
The cast of eager unknowns does what they can with the melodramatic material, but some are better than others in conveying the dense but compact script. The brief running time means some plot points get slimmed down or booted in the logic balls to make way for story advancement with the clock ticking away. But if you go in with no expectations, you may end up enjoying this one a lot more than you thought. When Nick (Michael Guy Allen), a PTSD afflicted Afghanistan veteran decides to end his life after his girlfriend Kayla (Meg Braden) takes hers, he sees a vision of what looks like her being murdered. Brought back to life by some friends, Nick realizes he “needs” to die again and again in order to find out what actually happened to the love of his life…
The film works best when you let the concept wash over you without over-thinking or adding your own twists to the tale. Nick and Kayla’s rather whirlwind romance as it’s shown through assorted flashbacks is very well handled, as its so integral to the plot. Yes, Nick’s friends may seem a wee bit too eager to assist him in his bathtub near-electrocutions and subsequent revivals, but again, it keeps the plot rolling. In the real world (or a much longer film), they’d be having him shipped off to the nearest VA hospital after the first attempt. But I’m imagining Holmes didn’t want to make a mini-series about Nick dealing with paperwork and sitting at home watching the grass grow while waiting months for a response as the wheels of bureaucracy turned ever so slowly. Instead, we get him in that rescued tub being zapped, a new clue to what happened and a resuscitation before the plot jumps around some more.
Holmes stretches that $300 quite well, using plenty of in-camera tricks and editing techniques to tell the story. For some viewers, the film will pack a debate-worthy punch because Nick’s obsession with finding Kayla’s killer has him pretty much becoming a suicide addict. Every death of his holds a key to the mystery, but it’s not hard at all to imagine the toll it’s taking on Nick’s friends. On the other hand, you kind of have to commend the guy for being persistent and committed. The date potential of this flick is kind of amusing and probably a barometer of sorts for some couples. If you’re watching this with your sweetie and he or she leans over and whispers in your ear “So, would you die for me, dear”?, I’m sure I don’t want to be in the same room when you give your answer. Too snarky and you’re sleeping on the couch. Too sweet and someone will get suspicious (and probably with good reason).
At the end of the day, Memory Lane is worth a look because it shows just how far you can take $300 if you have a decent enough concept and some powerful imagery to work with. While it’s not perfect, it’s definitely one of those home video surprises where you get a bit more than you think you’re getting. It’s definitely not your garden variety horror/thriller/sci-fi mash-up, that’s for sure. You’ll probably want to see this one before someone in Hollywood decides to do the inevitable higher-budgeted remake packed to the gills with much a higher paid cast. $300 may have gotten Shawn Holmes an entire film made, but in Hollywood dollars, that’s just enough to cover the Sweet & Low budget on a day’s shoot.
Score: B (80%)