Written and directed by Ross Clarke and based from the novel Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger, The Chemist is a neo-noiresque mystery based in New Orleans with a central character who has lost their memory.
A self-made explosion at a drug-making shack leaves experimental chemist and disaffected genius Eric Ashworth (Joseph Morgan) with memory loss, an interrogation with local police in the shape of officer Anslinger (Ron Perlman) and 3 days of leeway with which to solve his mystery in order to prove his innocence.
Eric’s investigation leads him to piecing together the slightest of clues, talking to the people he is lead to and giving the smallest of grasps as to what happened and caused all this. But his memory is still refusing to cooperate, providing moments and snippets of feelings and images. The only thing that he can remember clearly is the name Desiree. With mere glimpses of memories and fleeting moments to assist, the introduction of local bad guy Elia Blanc (Walton Goggins) adds a lot of southern spice as well as another pressure that his head is still refusing to comply with. Who is Desiree? What happened to leave Eric memoryless?
You play catch-up along with the story, as you are given as little to work with as Eric has. The time line jumps around quite a bit, showcasing childhood, pre-explosion but mostly moments of Eric and the woman that he remembers more than anything else but doesn’t help him progress his self-investigation. This drift from reality to hazy memory and back again, tied in with different timeframes, makes for a confusing watch, without much payoff.
There is a slow realisation that the drug that Eric is making is slowly destroying him and his relationship and that is done well in tandem with the slow memory recovery, but this ends up feeling like a TV movie. Lacking some of the style of something with a bigger budget and no real feel of urgency with the investigation and mystery solving leaves it a bit meandering. Added to the fact that you have no real connection or desire to see Eric fulfilled in his cause leaves it adrift.
You do get a small taste of the southern lifestyle and environment, especially from Walton Goggins and Ron Perlman. But the quality of these two actors provides a direct comparison between their excellent work and the, at times, emotionless and disconnected Morgan. With a feel similar to recent indie film The Endless, it unfortunately ends up a bit muddled and void of the emotion that it was striving for. There are some obvious comparisons with Angel Heart in the mystery, location and style but it lacks the urgency or the cost of solving the mystery, even with all the ingredients in the right place.