written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar
with: Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Thewlis
Minnesota, 1990. Angela Gray (Emma Watson), a young girl who grew up on a desolate farm, accuses her father of sexual abuse. The man confesses, but claims to be unable to remember the details of the crime, probably suppressing the memory as his mind cannot deal with the guilt. Investigating detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) contacts the hypnotherapist Dr. Raines (David Thewlis), who puts both the abuser and the victim under hypnosis to unearth the truth. Shockingly, it seems that Angela was the target of a ruthless Satanic cult her father and her grandma are members of. Soon Kenner feels he is dealing with something that might endanger his life- or soul.
Amenábar (The Others, Thesis) returns to the horror genre with Regression. I always found his horror movies as well made and reasonably entertaining, but never really particularly memorable or exciting. He is kind of a more modest and grounded version of M. Night Shyamalan in my eyes. Regression fits perfectly on that resume.
First, I have to say that I don’t agree with the general bad reception of this move. While it’s definitely not a great film, it’s still a very watchable one. A big plus is the original story. I am a sucker for movies about evil cults and bloodthirsty Satanists and this one puts an interesting spin on it. Worth a positive mention is also the slick and adequately dark cinematography.
But the highlight of the movie is the visualization of Angela’s description of the Satanists’ bizarre rituals. Amenábar takes this as an opportunity to throw some more lurid and exploitative horror imagery into the mix, that contrasts with the rather grounded thriller approach, to great effect. Apart from these scenes though, tension as well as a sign of a more individual style are lacking. While the story unfolds entertainingly enough, there is nothing that keeps us on the edge of our seat when the cult members aren’t on screen. Some of the psychological babble is also probably bullshit, but I don’t mind that too much. The acting is average all around. Hawke is putting on his proved and tested horror-film persona while Watson is just serviceable and her British accent took me out of the movie occasionally. Thewlis is not bad, but he has to spew some of the clunkiest lines.
What might be the most divisive element of the movie is its ending. And here it gets paradoxical, because although I actually liked the ending, I think it’s as much a satisfying solution to the story as it makes the film a frustrating experience in hindsight. How so? The ending we are offered does make sense in the context of the plot, but it opens up a whole array of themes and layers, pretending that we just saw a much more intelligent and deep movie than we actually did. After all the shallow characterizations, stereotypical situations and cheap shock effects, the high-brow ending feels unearned and leaves us wanting more. Not that I have a problem with cliches and conventionalism in horror movies, but the final twist made me feel as if there could have been a much better movie underneath, which was a little frustrating.
I still recommend this movie if you are looking for an alternative to the usual horror movie fare and don’t expect greatness. It doesn’t live up to the promise but it’s far better than the critic-consensus suggests. The topic, the storytelling angle and some of the imagery make up for many weaknesses.
Regression is available as VOD in European countries and will be released on DVD and VOD in the US on May 10th.