Much like running into a serial killer, amnesia is a more widespread problem in the movies than it is in the real world. Melodramas, romantic comedies, and other tried-and-true genres have utilized the trope of memory loss with varying degrees of success, but Rowan Joffe's thriller Before I Go to Sleep is so forgettable that it might make you feel like you have the disorder.
The movie opens on the bloodshot eyeball of Christine (Nicole Kidman), who wakes up and is told by her reassuring husband Ben (Colin Firth) that she's unable to form new memories due to an accident years prior. Her fears are somewhat assuaged until Ben leaves for work, when she gets a call from Dr. Nash (Mark Strong); Nash claims to be a neural psychiatrist who has been treating her, unbeknownst to her husband, for weeks. He tells her to find a camera in her closet, and when she does, she discovers that the videos on it are warnings from herself about how she can't trust her husband. She eventually meets with Nash, who tells her a very different history than the one Ben shared with her when she woke up that morning. Now, Christine must piece together her past and figure out who is telling the truth before it's too late.
Before I Go to Sleep is the kind of thriller where you, like the main character, have no idea whom to trust -- you're not even sure you can trust Christine. That's alienating for an audience, and the film needs either sensational performances or an engaging narrative puzzle in order to keep viewers' interest. Joffe's movie lacks both of these elements. Instead, he relies on increasingly ridiculous plot revelations that burst forth at opportune moments. Every time this happens, he only underscores the picture's lack of realism.
Although it's adapted from a novel, the movie feels stagebound. The three people mentioned above are practically the only characters who speak during the first half of the film. The spare style attempts to conjure the dread of a nightmare, but instead results in a feeling of total artificiality. Kidman, Firth, and Strong, all good actors, suffer under the weight of this deliberate visual approach. They never feel like real people; they're cogs in a plot who experience heightened emotions as they await the next big reveal, at which point a whole new round of fear, dread, and anxiety can begin.
All of this could be forgiven if the movie was engaging on any level, but it's a rote genre entry that veers way too close to Christopher Nolan's breakout film Memento. That picture was an intricate puzzle that was so tightly plotted it made you feel smarter for understanding it. Nolan's indie also contained some intriguing subtext about the need for storytelling, but Before I Go to Sleep only offers tired platitudes about the importance of being a parent. Joffe could have called it Momento.