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Regression. 2015. Directed & Written by Alejandro Amenábar.
Starring Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke, David Thewlis, Devon Bostick, Aaron Ashmore, Dale Dickey, David Dencik, Lothaire Bluteau, Kristian Bruun, Adam Butcher, and Aaron Abrams. Mod Producciones/First Generation Films/FilmNation Entertainment/Himenóptero/Telefonica Studios.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
Alejandro Amenábar’s first feature Thesis blew me away. Later, a different sort of film, Abre los ojos, was equally stunning. Then I truly adored The Others, as a modern classic of the haunted house sub-genre; an all around impressive picture. He has great qualities as a filmmaker, both his writing and directing full of talent. Proving himself on various ends of the spectrum, he doesn’t always have to be creepy. But when he goes for horror, or stories with scary/horror elements, Amenábar can really dig the hooks in. Perhaps that’s why this film let me down.
While I admit Regression has a nice mood and atmosphere, along with a couple solid horror visuals that creeped me out over and over, the whole movie is disappointing. If it weren’t for Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson I don’t know but I would’ve turned this movie off halfway through. Perhaps it has to do with how I’m painfully aware of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Or maybe Amenábar didn’t write a good enough script. One way or another I find this movie tedious. Sure, the few dreamy horror bits in the film are intense, and totally worth it. But otherwise there isn’t enough to justify a 106-minute romp through territory I, and so many others, have already read, watched, et cetera.
In Minnesota during 1990, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is assigned to the case of John Gray (David Dencik) whose seventeen-year-old daughter Angela (Emma Watson) is accusing him of sexual abuse. Although, the problem is John admits it must be true if his daughter claims the abuse happened, but doesn’t recall any of it ever taking place. Even worse, the further Angela regains her memory, with the help of regression therapy by Professor Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis), dark and sinister details come out about the abuse. Worse than incest, worse than rape, it comes to stand Angela says there were Satanic rituals performed. The whole family involved. Babies stabbed to death, their blood drank. An entire town of Satanists throbbing right below the surface.
And as Kenner further tracks down the details, he slowly imagines the devious world beneath everything bubbling up, coming for him. His mind crosses from hard reality to the dreamy fog of illusion.
Is Angela telling the truth? Is everyone beginning to remember what truly happens in their small Minnesota town? Does a Satanic cult really operate under the radar? Kenner has to figure it out. One way or another.
I still can’t exactly point to the one single thing that makes this movie a bummer for me. There are a few reasons I suspect this is the case. First, the weird energy of the film builds up then the resulting finale comes off as anti-climactic. Possibly no other way to end the film, but found it a bore in the end. Second, the acting talent of Emma Watson is wasted; her role is large, yet it’s as if we spend most of our time seeing her in one way when the end of the film, her character at that point is the side of her we wanted to, needed to, see more of ultimately. My suggestion? The screenplay ought to have been slightly longer, and maybe the big reveal placed earlier, so as to draw out more of the excellent characterization of Watson’s character. Would have made the climactic portion seem better. Finally, anyone who has ever heard of the Satanic Panic craze could draw a roadmap almost immediately where Regression was headed. Right away I knew what would happen with Watson and her character. I kept holding on, further and further, hoping Amenábar was right around the corner from dazzling me with some interesting twist, a surprising turn. That never came. Most of the film felt exciting and horrific at certain moments, even in the stagnant pieces. But there was no pay off. Nothing at the end, no pot of gold or anything.
And that leaves us with the acting. As I said, Watson is underused and not given enough time to do anything more than play a sad, tragic girl who seems to be caught up in a terrifying world. Outside of the crying and the withdrawn nature of that character there’s nothing much else happening; once more, I say, sad and missed opportunity. So really it’s the Ethan Hawke show – even David Thewlis doesn’t get enough screentime to make his character worth it. Hawke is a talented guy, whose work shows well in the character of Kenner. He is a man who wants to believe in something bigger, something more beautiful and full than the broken lives of the people he sees, being a detective and all. Except he can’t believe in anything more. With the case here, he becomes involved in a deep good vs. evil type mindset. The ending throws him for a loop altogether. Watching Hawke take us through this guy’s rollercoaster head trip it is a blast, as he gives us many solid moments, sucking us into the madness Kenner falls into like we’re right in the same boat.
Also, I’ve got to mention Dale Dickey as Rose Gray, the grandmother. She is an amazing character actor who pops up in everything, from Breaking Bad to Winter’s Bone and everything in between. Her intensity, her face full of expression and rocky wisdom, it all proves an important piece to the film. The scenes with her, every one, are interesting and definitely full of excitement. She is a treasure and a wonderful addition to this cast.
Quality acting cannot fully save a film. Even with creepy images thrown in, horror among all the mystery and thriller storytelling, Alejandro Amenábar does not come anywhere near his previous directorial/written efforts so far with Regression. Not all bad, the film overall just seems like a massive swing and miss. There were places this could’ve went that it did not. There were other ways the story and plot could’ve been structured, yet Amenábar stuck with this and things feel flat for such a large portion of the movie. While I still find it good enough for 3 stars, so many things need improving. It’s too bad because Amenábar is a fabulous filmmaker, an intriguing writer. He simply fell short on this. Luckily, there’s enough of the creep factor here and several nice performances, so the whole thing is not a waste. Don’t expect anything overly impressive. I went in hoping for so much more. Now, I wish I’d curbed those expectations a fair deal more.