The act of creating is a cathartic experience for most. That feeling of something welling up inside which must be written, crafted, or molded or else the creator will burst. Sometimes this results in an extremely personal work which resonates across time to each who behold it. Sometimes, however, what comes is nothing more than a great idea whose promise is evident, even if the execution is not ideal. Such is the case with mystery thriller 8 Remains (originally titled ∞ Doors), a raw cinematic experience in which a woman must confront her own demons and culpability on the ethereal plane if she’s going to save her own life from ending, like a horrific version of “This Is Your Life.” Despite solid direction and a grounding performance from the lead, 8 Remains possesses too many ideas and relies too heavily on metaphor to create the powerful story of self-agency and rebirth it clearly wants to be.
To celebrate her birthday, Talli (Maja-Celiné Probst) joins her older boyfriend Damian (Gregory B. Waldis) at his estate for a special surprise. What begins as a romantic celebration of her life turns deadly as Damian reveals his true intentions, strangling her until she’s all but lifeless. In that instant, something strange occurs and Talli finds herself traveling in and out through her memories, desperately attempting to change her fate, even as she finds herself returning to the moment of her death again and again. Even worse, Damian and several accompanying wrathful specters pursue her from memory to memory. Moving through her memories and running out of time, the only thing that can save Talli is herself.
The script by Laura Sommer and Wolf-Peter Arand is fairly straight-forward in concept: woman is assaulted by her lover and, in the moment before death, is sent on an out-of-body journey. At first, this seems like just another film heaping violence upon a woman, but as the audience goes further into 8 Remains, it becomes clear that the writers and director Juliane Block (Train Station) have a specific and empowering end-point in mind. As the story plays out, Talli is a woman consumed by guilt over various tragedies and manipulated by a man skilled in gas lighting techniques. In her own way, she’s longing for the very thing her lover gives her on her birthday, but only upon receiving it does she recant the desire. Thankfully, the script doesn’t play the realization as Talli’s narrative goal, as that wouldn’t be enough to pull her out of her personal tailspin. Rather, Talli needs to take control of her life and her visits through her memories force a confrontation of self she’s clearly been avoiding. Even as Damian appears to stalk her through this mirrored plane of existence during his continued real world assault, the story finds time to open up Talli’s wounds in order for the character to find the required catharsis.
Driven more by philosophy and less by science-fiction, the story is kept grounded by Block through subtle color shifts and a smart use of CG to denote the length of Talli’s supernatural leash. In the moment where Talli starts to cross the mortal divide, the scene takes on a darker shade of color, accentuated further by Talli’s pallor. This continues until Talli reaches a memory and then she takes on the appropriate appearance for that moment in her life. Similarly, to highlight Talli’s limited mobility as a spirit, a slight shimmer is applied to her touch each time she reaches an invisible boundary. Without a single explanation, these visual cues smartly highlight the changes in Talli’s physical and metaphysical positions. Small details like this enable the whole of 8 Remains to feel like less of an exaggerated melodrama and more akin to a coordinated thriller.
Where things begin to fall apart for 8 Remains is in its overuse of metaphor to imply or suggest significance without taking the time to anchor it in something concrete. Time is a persistent, omnipresent threat to Talli as represented by the fact that she and Damian are literally frozen in their state of combat as her spirit walks the room, except they aren’t frozen. They are merely slowed as death is still coming for her unless she does something. That point is exceedingly clear and wonderfully sets the stakes. However, as Talli visits her memories, some representation of a clock counting down from 8 appears. The significance of the number is never explained or presented with reasoning. Why that number? Why that length? Is it meant to represent a sideways ∞ symbol? With other aspects so immaculately designed, the somewhat haphazard decision appears incongruent with the other choices. Additionally, where time is clearly measurable, a suggestion is made that Talli is lost, doomed to exist in this space forever. On the one hand, this speaks to a larger metaphor of an assailant keeping control over their victim, even past the assault, a notion which creates a great deal of resonance with the story. However, if there is a limit to the time she possesses, how can the time there be also infinite? It creates a paradox under which the metaphor can’t sustain. This becomes even more confusing with the appearance of an infinity symbol (is this the “8” the time speaks of or as included in the title?) late in the film, which serves as a wonderful visual cue of self-actualization but does not serve the narrative.
8 Remains possesses some great ideas which it explores in a mostly uneven fashion. Block manages the shifts in perspective within each new memory with ease, enabling the audience to get equally oriented as Talli in each new scenario. To her credit, Probst never presents Talli as a victim, even at the lowest points in the story. Her performance and Block’s direction working in sync make for the more interesting aspects of 8 Remains. Even Waldis, who makes for a splendid villain, can’t seem to decide if Damian is unhinged or methodical, making some of the shifts in his performance harder to quantify. The same can’t be said for other members of the cast who frequently seem to be doing line readings instead of capturing the moment. Although, an argument can be made that these are Talli’s memories, which means that the audience is seeing only a representation of things and not as they are; however, that suspension of disbelief can only go so far. Even with its glaring issues, 8 Remains does successfully convey the significance of self-agency and that victims of abuse only remain victims if they let themselves. There’s power in that notion that can’t be ignored.
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Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.