In 2011, a twisty, devastating time-travel drama starring Dougray Scott and (newly minted ‘Doctor’) Jodie Whittaker titled A Thousand Kisses Deep was released. It is one of most underrated films I have ever seen and a personal favorite. Ranking right alongside that British film is the Spierig Brothers’ equally powerful Predestination, an adaptation of the Robert A. Heinlein short story, All You Zombies. Both films are marked by subtle uses of their more fantastical elements, instead highlighting the characters and their intense situations, and how what they discover and change affects them in various stages of their lives. The thriller 8 Remains strives to hit that same mix of vivid characterizations, emotional depth, captivating mystery, with just enough outlandish elements to spring it to wondrous life.
Before it can be sussed out if the movie succeeds, let’s find out what it is about. 8 Remains starts with Talli (Maja-Celiné Probst) and Damian (Gregory B Waldis) in bed, kissing passionately. As things begin to heat up for the couple, Talli feels as if Damian is getting too rough. Next thing she knows, his hands are around her neck, and breathing becomes incredibly difficult. As Talli feels the last few breathes leaving her body, time suddenly stops.
Talli is then thrust into the room, unsure what is happening. She attempts to push the frozen man off from atop her other self, but nothing happens. Then she tries to bash his head in with a vase, but again, to no avail. The audience is then treated to some of the wooing techniques Damian used on Talli. Suddenly, Talli finds that she is in her own house, earlier that day. Her mom (Isabelle Mann) comes by to drop off her birthday present, but Talli is unable to answer the door; being prevented from moving beyond a certain by a slightly shimmering, mostly invisible barrier. She runs out of the house as soon as possible, trying to call for help but no one can see or hear her.
“…feels the last few breathes leaving her body, time suddenly stops.“
Now Talli is at Damian’s mansion. To ensure Talli has the best birthday possible, she’s been granted use of his place to get ready, while his maid, Ms. Fatcher, (Andrea Schneider) is preparing a special dinner based on her dietary preferences. Oddly enough, Ms. Fatcher can see, speak to, and interact with this mirror-verse version of Talli. Astounded by this, the possibly dead lady asks questions about what is happening, but the maid only reacts to specific prompts.
Talli catches up to herself but can’t go any further until the original her moves on. Then she is snapped from that place to an older memory. After opening a door, she finds herself in a dank prison staring down her stepfather (Pete Riley). He was abusing her mom on a regular basis, so Talli lied to the authorities and told them he was hurting her. This got him put away for life. However, he is bitter over her lies, not remorseful over his abhorrent actions, and tries to feel up Talli. Because for vaguely defined reasons, he can see and talk to her as well. Damian bursts through the door, claiming it is he who shall take down Talli and fights off the stepfather.
So it goes, as Talli looks for a way to rescue herself, she crisscrosses old memories, relives the pain of losing loved ones, encounters herself as both a child and an elderly woman, and the writers couldn’t be bothered to adequately explain how or why only someone people can interact with her as she makes these jumps.
Which is the biggest issue that arises from 8 Remains. In A Thousand Kisses Deep, the mechanism that sends Mia (Jodie Whittaker) through her own life is an elevator in her apartment building. The only explanation given as to why is an offhanded comment that perhaps, she needed to confront and change her life decisions. However, that does not prevent the screenwriters from establishing rules for how it works. Mia gets into the lift, and it takes her to a specific moment in her life. Once there, she can interact with everyone she sees and thus affects things in that way.
“…Talli’s character growth is strong and more importantly…a visual stunner.”
While Laura Sommer and Wolf-Peter Arand’s screenplay for 8 Remains does eventually explain that all these memories and what have you are controlled by Damian. So is he a wizard? Some otherworldly entity? This does not clear much up and more importantly, does not address the rules that only exist for the sake of plot convenience. Why can Talli talk to an eight-year-old version of herself and not her mom earlier in the movie? Because the plot requires it to be that. Sadly, every memory jump or new scenario presented is hampered by this.
The attempt at putting it all into Damian’s hands (because of supernatural powers?) makes things even murkier. Why, pray tell, then would Damian have his wife show up in one these memories and confront Talli (who was unaware of Damian’s marital status)? It is confusing, and this defiance against internal logic keeps the viewer at arm’s distance.
The kicker is that Talli’s character growth is strong and more importantly, 8 Remains is a visual stunner. Juliane Block directs with confidence and casts an appropriately mystical atmosphere over all that is happening. Coupled with Marc Oberdorfer and Marcus Schwemin’s lush cinematography, atop remarkable set design, and one is left with a hauntingly picture-esque, eerie film to gaze upon.
Maja-Celiné Probst does a great job at selling the bewilderment and amazement Talli is feeling at the inexplicable experience that befalls her. Gregory B Waldis is equal parts disarmingly charming and creepy, which works for the man with murderous intents very well. Playing an older Talli, Priscilla Wittman is impressive, suggesting heartbreak and confusion with just a few lines of dialogue. The rest of the cast is at least good, save for Pete Riley. While he seems to be doing the performance that was asked of him, he plays the stepfather in such a snarling, over-the-top fashion he does not mesh with anyone else in the cast. It feels like he came in from a different movie and that whole sequence feels off because of that.
8 Remains is mostly well acted, shot beautifully, and directed with skill and confidence. However, the story has some major holes, and a lack of internal consistency makes for a frustrating watch. Certainly not terrible but it needed another script rewrite or two.
8 Remains (2018) Directed by Juliane Block. Written by Laura Sommer, Wolf-Peter Arand. Starring Kevin Leslie, Maja-Celiné Probst, Priscilla Wittman, Isabelle Mann, Andrea Schneider.
5 Quantum Leaps (out of 10)