In bold print the warning on the back of the package states that misuse of the product could cause disorientation, sleepwalking and confusion, but the lure of what lies inside is too tempting, the promise of reliving past memories through Olfactory, “a new scent-based experiential product.”
Perhaps wisely, Brian (Jessica Jones‘ Kieran Mulcare) opts to do some research online before calibrating the Olfactory device, but immediately he is astonished by the vivid recall which is triggered, a conversation with his girlfriend Amanda (Alison Barton) from only moments before played out as though it were happening before his eyes.
With variable settings of the duration of the experience, the memory period to be recalled and the strength of the effect from déjà vu to full sensory immersion, Brian begins to experiment, exploring his past, trying to untangle his relationship with Amanda and where things went astray but other memories surface, his accusatory ex-girlfriend Rachel (Molly Camp) intruding into moments where she should not be.
Directed by Christopher Piazza from a script co-written with Lucas Kane and having screened at film festivals around the world, the short film Olfactory plays with memory, perception and the expectations and assumptions of the audience; everything is connected, every memory impacting subsequent events, and as Brian pulls at the threads he begins to unravel.
The performances initially cold, Brian and Amanda talking to each other as though they are strangers who live together, they are warmer in their memories, lit differently, more relaxed, the intensity of the Olfactory experience conveyed through the altered soundscape of the hallucinations before Brian wakes from a disturbed sleep to find he is arguing with a cold and empty room.
Different versions of the same people colliding together out of sequence, can any of them be considered real when pieces of their identity may have been edited out, when they may each have entirely different memories of the same shared event? How can Amanda trust Brian to be honest with her when he can’t even trust himself?
The film itself full of triggered memories, the repetitions of key moments and phrases coupled with the urge to go back and somehow change them recall The Fountain while the consequences of haphazard overwriting of memory echoes Dollhouse, and Amanda’s warning to Brian that this is a drug rather than a life were spoken decades before about the Talosians of The Cage.
More compact than the recently released and similarly themed Rememory, with its shifting perspectives and eroding certainty of truth Olfactory is a clever and well-executed premise which is both melancholy and disturbing which fully deserves the awards and recognition it has received.