1st October 2018 (UK VOD Premiere)
An inspired experimental chemist, wakes up in a New Orleans jail, accused of arson that's linked to an illegal drug-manufacturing ring. Suffering from amnesia, he's unexpectedly released on bail, determined to find his missing girlfriend.
Joseph Morgan, Nicole Badaan, Walton Goggins
It’s been a long road to this country for The Chemist. First premiering in February 2015 at the US’ Cinequest Festival under the name of Desiree, Ross Clarke’s adaptation of Clevenger’s cult novel Dermaphoria languished in distribution limbo for nearly two years. It gained a full US release in September 2016, but there was still no sign of a European deal. After being picked up by The Movie Partnership for UK audiences, it’s received a new name, becoming the much more direct The Chemist. While I can’t see any particular reason in its content why it took over three years to reach these lands, there’s not much here to have had distributors falling over themselves in a scramble to obtain the rights either.
The story follows Eric (Joseph Morgan; Master & Commander, The Originals), an experimental chemist who survives an almost lethal overdose of his latest creation, a brand new recreational drug sweeping through New Orleans. Waking up in police custody with mysterious burns, severe memory loss, and suspected of blowing up the drug’s makeshift factory, his only clear recollection is his girlfriend’s name: Desiree. Pursued by a determined detective, an organised crime syndicate, and his own shady past, he must recall what happened that day in order to clear his name.
Told mainly through flashbacks and the occasional voice over, The Chemist is, initially at least, frustratingly confusing. Its flashbacks appear seemingly at random, sometimes even having them happen within other memories or recollections. While this may appear awfully clever of director Ross Clarke in his feature film debut, they ultimately become irritating as it’s near impossible to make any emotional connections with these characters as the narrative bounces all over the place and time.
Eventually, I did warm to the technique as the mystery unravels. I began to see it as more of a representation of how Eric sees things as his clouded mind tries to uncover why so many people are after him. But The Chemist also suffers from a script based on a story of memory loss that doesn’t translate too well to the big screen.
It’s understandable due to Eric’s amnesia, but The Chemist is guilty of the tiresome trait of characters saying things like (and I’m paraphrasing here): ‘Oh c’mon, you remember don’t you!’ or ‘don’t give me that crap, we know you know what we mean!’.It’s all very vague, and left me looking as befuddled as Eric does any time he has an interaction with another character. It wouldn’t be too bad if the story captured my attention quicker but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel like a slog to get to a well-worn and much less puzzling conclusion than I’d been led to believe was in store.
Probably the best thing about The Chemist is the aspect which is minimally featured – it is, of course, Walton Goggins. Most recently seen in Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp, Goggins is admittedly less impressive than usual here as Blanc, a southern crime kingpin. Sporting a dodgy pencil-thin moustache and conspicuously putting on an accent that he most certainly isn’t required, Goggins nonetheless draws the most out of caricatured villain role and The Chemist is all the better for his involvement.
The other big name here, Ron Perlman, has even less screen time than Goggins as Detective Anslinger and growls his way through the few lines he has. As always, it’s fantastic to see Perlman on screen but he or his character doesn’t have enough material to be given any more credit than these few words already allocated to them.
As for the lead Joseph Morgan, his performance is all over the place which is arguably the route he was going for given he’s playing an addict. One particular scene sees him channel his inner Joker (the Ledger version), but for the most part he portrays a troubled and bewildered junkie satisfactorily.
So while some solid performances and striking shots keep things interesting, overall this concoction is unlikely to leave any lasting marks if it gets into your eyes.
The Chemist will be available on VOD platforms in the UK including iTunes, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Sky Store from 1st October 2018.
Some striking shots and colour palette
Unusually told narrative
Very confusing for at least 45 minutes