The Forgotten opens not with an image, but a sound. The screen is blank, but we hear a woman’s terrified call to the emergency services from Flat 23, Drayton House, on the Farlow Estate: her drunk husband is trying to get in, may even already be inside, and he has a knife. “Please, no no no no!”, we hear, and then a scream – and then the phone goes dead. All this is enough to conjure an awful, primal scene of domestic abuse and social isolation – a scene that will re-echo through the rest of Oliver Frampton’s feature debut.
14-year-old Tommy (Clem Tibber) moves into the flat next door to 23 with his father Mark (Shaun Dingwall). It is where Mark used to live, before he met Tommy’s mother Sarah years ago – and now that Sarah is mysteriously absent, Mark has returned to squat in the scene of his youth, salvaging copper wiring and other strippable assets from the empty building before it is demolished. Withdrawn and friendless, Tommy bonds with the equally lonely local teen Carmen (Elerica Gallacher). When Mark is hospitalised, Tommy, abandoned and alone, turns to Carmen to help him investigate the strange sounds that keep drifting through his bedroom walls at night from Flat 23.
Both a ghost story and a mystery, The Forgotten concerns lost fathers and the children who must live in their ruins and absorb the damage. The harrowing drama that unfolded in Flat 23 falls into a sympathetic relationship with the dysfunctional arrangement next door, and even with the rather different domestic situation of Carmen and her adoptive father Martin (James Doherty), still intensely grieving the absence of his own partner. There is a paradoxical convergence – across time – of these parallel narratives until they eventually take possession of one another, blurring into one and erasing the differences.
If The Forgotten concerns itself with overlooked, marginalised people and their generational legacy, it is also set in empty, neglected spaces, where stray sounds easily carry and graffitied traces of the past are inscribed on the masonry. This merger of story and evocative setting brings a social dimension to Frampton’s film, as though to suggest that these haunted spaces, these walls with ears privy to all manner of interior, private horrors, are a part of the nation’s very bricks and mortar, if only anyone cared to read the signs. It is also a tragic dramatisation of the way that history is doomed to repeat itself as the past is forever reprised – and forever forgotten. Frampton handles the scares masterfully – but it is the pervasive sense of sadness that will haunt you longer.