A detective and a psychoanalyst uncover evidence of a satanic cult while investigating the rape of a young woman.
But about Regression… The Others it ain’t. Don’t mistake that as a negative. Regression isn’t all bad, but it’ll never find its way into the pantheon of all-time horror greats, as The Others no doubt will.
With another “based on true events” title so prominent in features these days, we’re introduced to the small town of Hoyer, Minnesota and lead detective Bruce Kenner (four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke). Like so many other cops in films, his job is his life. He’s unmarried, no children and a bit of a prick. He’s got no time for nonsense. It’s 1990 and the mass hysteria of the Satanism scare is still sweeping the US… and now it’s come home to roost, right in the nation’s heartland. One of Hoyer’s citizens, John Gray (David Dencik) is brought in on a charge of child molestation, when his daughter Angela (Harry Potter’s Emma Watson) sends a letter alleging such heinous actions. He’s arrested, and she takes shelter in a nearby church, operated by Reverend Murray (Lothaire Bluteau of last year’s Gravy). Angela further suggests that there is Satanism involved, including animal and infant sacrifice, and that her other family members were also part of the ritual abuse, including her grandmother Rose (prolific character actress Dale Dickey). Paranoia and suspicions penetrate the small town and worm their way into the minds of the law enforcement and into Bruce himself. He uses the aid of local psychology professor, Kenneth Raines (Harry Potter’s David Thewlis) to further work the case.
Just like The Others, the film is beautifully shot. Amenabar knows how to place people and things in his frame. He knows how to build tension and properly place you on edge. Why, the set-up for Bruce’s lonely home is full of windows and multi-levels. It feels as though it’s constantly exposed. I found myself – every single time he would return home from work – feeling very uneasy about what would happen to him that night. It was what I’ll now term, the “Paranormal Activity” syndrome. All is okay during the day, but once our characters retreat to their homes/bedrooms for sleepy-time, the creepies will definitely come out to play and the audience’s heart sinks.
That being said, Regression is more of a psychological thriller than an out and out horror flick. Certainly, the Satanism aspect (so creepily portrayed in the film) makes for some good scares and palpable tension, but the film’s truly about mass hysteria and paranoia. In some aspects I was reminded of the go-to when discussing horror paranoia – Rosemary’s Baby – but at certain times, it also had the feel of Silence of the Lambs or even a totally horror-unrelated crime thriller like say, the Sandra Bullock vehicle, Murder by Numbers. Amenabar has a firm grasp on all things technical (thus keeping us perfectly un-relaxed), including how to work with his actors.
I really enjoyed the performances in Regression, even Ethan Hawke, who I’ve been known to – on occasion – greatly dislike as an actor. While Hawke is admittedly pretty good in the film, it’s the smaller roles which stand out. Lothaire Bluteau is always able to please. He’s one of those actors who automatically warrants a silent cheer when he appears on-screen. And as mentioned above, Dale Dickey (who has a tremendous scene during the film’s mid-point) brings the goods wherever she goes. Regression is no exception.
One of the best supporting actors to appear in Regression is little known thespian, David Dencik (his resume boasts such films as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as the father brought in on molestation charges. He’s confused by all that’s going on, and can’t commit one way or another to a proper confession. Much later in the film, Dencik really shows off his acting chops — after things in the town and in his case have come to a head, he breaks down. It’s an impressive scene, and frankly, Dencik is the secret weapon among all of these “names” filling out the cast roster. Despite the charges against John Gray, Dencik allows you to feel the pangs of sympathy.
I knew very little about Regression going in (which is of course, always better), and therefore had no idea that Hermione Granger herself, Emma Watson has an important supporting role in the film. It’s great to see her in such a multi-faceted part. She sells all of the pieces of her character (some of which I saw coming from a mile away). And God help me, I’m a sucker for actors who can cry well. Notch up that particular triumph for Watson. Her Angela is a complex character and one of the highlights of the film.
Regression toys with its namesake, following some of the characters into their minds to uncover frightening and long lost or perhaps repressed memories – in order to find evidence, but in essence the film is just a paint-by-numbers crime thriller with a few scary bits, an impressive cast list and a flawless production.
The final payoff (and epilogue’s obligatory titles – it is “based on true events” after all) actually makes the entire affair seem rather pointless. Couldn’t we have taken the “based on true events” and run with — using some sort of grand and terrifying poetic license? Perhaps into a darker place? Or given more focus to Angela’s motives and family history? As is, with the way things are wrapped up – just before those credits roll – Regression feels a bit like a waste of time. Good journey, but an apt comparison is those films which end up being “all just a dream”. Really? Your payoff is sorely lacking, so despite all of the positive things, again — seems like the phrase “what’s the point?” would be appropriate here. I believe the film would have received higher marks had it gone in a different direction.
Regression is scheduled for theatrical release on February 5th, 2016.