To keep the audience guessing about what is coming next is any filmmaker’s dream. Very few have been able to master the subtle craft of keeping you engaged. Even fewer have mustered the courage to do so while carving out a compelling character study.
Director Christopher Charrier tries his hands at both and admirably so. His creation benefits from his vision for a twisted story about a boy remembering his horrible childhood and the truth about his own state of mind. But where it fatally falters is not knowing when to stop. The Lost Patient has just too many twists and unanswered questions that I am sure even the makers do not know about.
Thomas Grimaud wakes up in a hospital after his entire family is killed, except his sister Laura, who is missing. His therapist Anna works with him to make him remember the events of the night and those leading up to it. Thomas vividly recalls seeing a “monster”, or “the man in the black”, who murdered his family. As the recollections get more intense and intrusive, Thomas has trouble distinguishing between reality and imagination. With more information, he starts to suspect Anna and the doctors of engaging in an elaborate conspiracy to keep him from Laura.
Both the reality and the imagined reality move in sync with The Lost Patient. Props to Charrier for making the transition between the past and the present seamless and meaningful. The latter element is mostly missing whenever such an attempt is made. More often than not, the creative focus is on making those transition moments stylish and enduring in memory. Here, Charrier does so with such subtlety that only when you discover the central conceit in the end that you notice those details. Without those recollections, Thomas’ illusion and primary drive could not have been established.
Now here is the proverbial “but” succeeded by the positive comments. Despite their critical nature, the flashbacks are too vast. The information disseminated is too wide and ambiguous. They are not curated in a crisp manner that would have kept us more in the loop about what is actually going in. What it does, on the other hand, is make following the plot very hard. In an almost obtuse manner, Charrier prevents us from having easy access. In fact, there are certain points midway when you can’t really make heads and tails of the story.
Even though we reach a definitive end, there are far too many loose ends for one’s liking. A lot of questions remain unanswered and the red herrings only make Charrier look like an inefficient operator. The initial phase of The Lost Patient is reminiscent of South Korean movie Remember (2022) and the likes of Lucy and Memento. A comparison is unfair to Charrier and the film given, the profile and scale. But some cues can definitely be taken from those compelling works for future projects. The unreliable narrator is a clever tool but should not be used experimentally or mindlessly.
The application must be precise with a clear plan of what you intend to do ahead. The film loses out on capitalizing fully on that and it is part of a reason why it does not have the desired impact. The actors playing Thomas and Laura (Txomin Vergez and Rebecca Williams respectively) put on a decent show. They share good chemistry that achieves a level of intimacy without compromising the sanctity of their sibling bond. Both performers bring good intensity to their characters and make watching the story unfold worth the while.
There is a typical French touch to the narrative and characterization of Laura. For some quaint reason, I feel all mainstream French films have a subconscious way of sexualizing their female leads by making them vulnerable. The soft touches in characterizing them are a clever way of subverting the male gaze and in The Lost Patient, the trend continues with Laura. That aspect was one of the most exciting aspects of her character and how she was featured in the story, apart from the obvious one.
Overall, The Lost Patient feels like a missed opportunity. There is so much to like and admire about the story format but that ends up being its fatal downfall as well. An okay one time watch but nothing quite impressive to find here.
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