Unforgettable review: The best worst 'erotic thriller' of all time

Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson’s ‘erotic thriller’ is as close to being objectively, verifiably dreadful as it gets

Official trailer for 'Unforgettable', an ‘erotic thriller’ starring Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl and directed by Denise Di Novi.

Women scorned: Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson in Unforgettable

Film Title: Unforgettable

Director: Denise Di Novi

Starring: Katherine Heigl, Rosario Dawson, Geoff Stults, Isabella Rice, Cheryl Ladd

Genre: Thriller

Running Time: 100 min

Thu, Apr 20, 2017, 22:00

   

This is one of those weeks when the average film critic has cause to regret the reductive star ratings above reviews. The first film directed by Denise Di Novi, powerful producer of many Nicholas Sparks adaptations, is as close to being objectively, verifiably dreadful as any recent cinema release.

If we had a gauge to test such things, it would struggle to reveal a single star. Yet Unforgettable (whose title acts as a merciless taunt to reviewers) is accidentally marvellous in ways that establish it as a treasure for the ages. It looks as if it was made on a dare. It looks as if somebody who’d seen a bad rip-off of a poor Brian DePalma rip-off of a weak Hitchcock film felt as if that was something worth ripping off with even less aptitude. It feels like a Wayans brothers satire of Big Little Lies. You don’t see movies like this every day.

The pitch has potential for pulp fun. What if the aggrieved ex-wife of a good-looking hunk set out to ruin the life of that bore’s new fiancé? We are left in no doubt that Tessa (Katherine Heigl) is the baddie when, early on, we see her fanatically brushing her daughter’s hair while staring dementedly into space.

“Now you’re perfect. Like mummy! Ha ha ha!” she says. (I may have added the cackles, but the sense is accurate.) Tessa then takes the unfortunate child to spend time with the nicer, less mad Julia (Rosario Dawson). We know Julia is nicer because Rosario Dawson, rather than Katherine Heigl, has been cast in the part. Another clue is the fact that, unlike Tessa, she doesn’t go to the same icy boutique that clothed Tilda Swinton in The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Initially, Tessa deals in minor digs: she criticises Julia’s cooking; she complains that the child’s hair is not brushed. Then she moves on to cyber-interference that drags up violent trauma in the other woman’s past. It is surely no spoiler to reveal that she ends up waving a carving knife while wearing a ghostly shroud.

The filmmakers have no feel for the construction of jump scares. A pounding chord accompanies a body walking past a window, but that is the only indication that we’re supposed to feel unease. The action veers suddenly from erotic thriller to the preposterousness of daytime soap opera.

For all that, there is something delicious about the overwrought acting and the penny-dreadful melodrama. Actors of the silent era were less mannered than Heigl at her most villainous. The startling turn by Cheryl Ladd (where the heck have you been?) as her evil mother would seem overcooked in the average Christmas pantomime.

One ends up yearning for a disinterred Joan Crawford and Bette Davis to have a crack at the two central roles. That might have been archly entertaining on purpose. This is just barmy.

I’d watch it again.