Memory and identity are two things that are deeply tied together. Who we think we are is based on all the things we remember, and all the things we remember are seen through a lens of who we think we are. But for people who have trouble remembering important parts of their lives – those with repressed memories – does that mean they don’t really know who they are?

EVERY TIME I DIE follows Sam, a paramedic who suffers from nightmares, blackouts, and horrible headaches. All of which is somehow connected to a half-remembered childhood trauma. The loss of his little sister Sara. Several times he blacks out for long periods of time, not remembering where he goes or what he does, but when he comes to he often finds an old box of family photos nearby, no matter how often he attempts to throw it away.

Despite these problems, he decides to spend the weekend at a cabin in the woods with his paramedic partner Jay – a self-titled philosopher who’s overcome his own host of psychological issues and is now a bastion of positivity celebrating a 40th birthday he thought he would never see. Sam is really going because he’s obsessed with Mia, the married woman he’s been having an affair with and the sister of Jay’s girlfriend Poppy. When Mia’s husband Tyler, just returned from a tour of duty in the army, comes along, it’s a recipe for trouble for the unstable Sam.

When things come to a head and Sam winds up dead, his consciousness passes into those of his friends. He now has to use this power to save his friends from a killer, and somehow unlock the secret to his own repressed memories. Changing bodies would give you a great perspective on your own identity, now wouldn’t it?

EVERY TIME I DIE is a very ambitious first feature from writer/director Robi Michael. The narrative is very complex, splicing back-and-forth between the present and the past, dreams and waking life with a purpose that will only seem logical in hindsight. It’s truly a film that requires two watches to appreciate, as the final twist is a real doozy. It’s the perfect kind of twist, with just enough hints sprinkled throughout to give you a real “Eureka!” moment when it all clicks into place. Then you’ll want to watch it again to see which of these hints you inevitably missed.

On top of that, the film is delivered with really impactful cinematography. The special effects that show the transition of Sam’s soul or consciousness between bodies is breathtaking. And the camera operating as it goes between traditional shots and POV really adds to the immersion (though the “blinking” effects is a bit annoying, despite the realism). All of this is highlighted by a poignant score that highlights the most emotional moments perfectly.

I wish I could spoil more about this film because it really offers up a great opportunity for discussion about memory and identity as I mentioned above. I’m not saying this film will achieve the same lofty critical acceptance as Memento but I think the two films would make an excellent double-feature on the cinematic expression of memory disorders.

You may need to be patient through the first 40 minutes until the narrative really kicks into gear, but you won’t regret sticking with it. My only criticism would be how confusing those first 40 minutes are. They really don’t give you much of an idea of what’s coming next. But they become quite essential in retrospect to understanding the climax.

If you’re into psychological thrillers with a bit of magical realism, EVERY TIME I DIE is an excellent film for you to try. EVERY TIME I DIE will be having its World Premiere at Cinequest March 8, 2019 at 9:50pm at the California Theatre San Jose and tickets can be purchased HERE

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