Greetings again from the darkness. In another time, it would be expected to label director Chad Hartigan’s film as a science fiction romance. However, we aren’t in another time – no matter how much we might wish we were. The story revolves around a global pandemic that is working its way … unseen … through society. Drug companies are frantically testing possible cures, while medical personnel are treating those afflicted as best they can. Sound a bit too familiar? Lest you judge too harshly as a quick cash-in, you should know the film was wrapped prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, so call it serendipity or pure luck, but the timing is impeccable.
It’s called “NIA”, an abbreviation for Neuro-Inflammatory Affliction. Those who get the virus lose their memories. Some experience a slow drop in their ability to recall, while it hits others like a quick slap. Newlyweds Emma (Olivia Cooke, SOUND OF METAL, THOROUGHBREDS) and Jude (Jack O’Connell, UNBROKEN, 2014) are our conduits to this world of fear, anxiety, and love. We experience their courtship through flashbacks, as the film is bookended by an Oceanside scene which makes no sense to us the first time, but certainly does at the end.
Mattson Tomlin adapted the screenplay from Aja Gabel’s short story, and is also credited with the screenplay for the upcoming Matt Reeves movie THE BATMAN, starring Robert Pattinson. It’s very well written and the two leads perform admirably. Ms. Cooke, in her native British accent, continues to shine in both her performances and choice of projects. Montages and flashbacks are used so that we have a feel for this relationship. Emma and Jude are the kind of couple who have an engagement fish, instead of a ring. They are both ‘low-talkers’, so you’ll need to be tuned in, but the concern over the virus looms heavy over every character … even memory tattoos are big business.
Other excellent movies dealing with memory include ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) and MEMENTO (2000), though Mr. Hartigan’s movies is more similar in tone to the former than the latter. This is a romance with lots of hugging and tight holds. Emma asks, “How do you build a future when you keep having to rebuild the past?” We know that memories evolve and fade and change, but this NIA virus has us questioning if love is simply a bond held together by shared memories – and if the memories are gone, is the love gone as well? The movie is quite a downer to watch, and will very probably tug hard on your heartstrings; yet it’s very well made and all too topical. Please excuse me if I refrain from using the science fiction label.
In Theaters and On Demand on February 5, 2021