Fear always finds its victim
6 Years after his last film Agora, Chilean director Alejandro Amenábar returns to the silver screen with the satanic cult drama thriller Regression. The film stars the unflappable Ethan Hawke as Bruce Kenner, a Detective who passionately gets embroiled in a case where a young girl was sexually abused by her father and members of a satanic cult. Emma Watson stars as the abused young girl Angela Gray, with support from David Thewlis, Aaron Ashmore, David Dencik and Dale Dickey.
It’s Minnesota, 1990, and on a soaking wet day John Gray is called into the police station by the chief of police. Unbeknownst to him his daughter Angela has given a statement to the police after leaving home, declaring she was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father and members of a satanic cult. John has absolutely no memory of the act but believes it to be true and Detective Bruce Kenner jumps head first into the case. As news of a satanic cult operating in the area comes to light, fear and panic envelops the town with paranoia sweeping the police station. With few leads and increasing testimony of the cults actions (sacrificial baby killing) from Angela, Bruce is in a race against time to find evidence and expose the cult before they claim another victim, potentially him.
Regression is an interesting watch, which I realise is not a flamboyant declaration of brilliance nor a damning statement of ineptitude, but there are few other ways to put it, my thoughts clearly ambivalent. Regression is a film where the narrative intentions and influence behind the film elevate its quality over some of the film itself. On the one hand it’s refreshingly not your average satanic cult film, tackling wider themes than just hunting a bunch of robed baby killers. On the other hand, Regression spends much of its time masquerading as one of these films to achieve the final act pay off. Unfortunately there is an imbalance in the effort of getting to the final act than the satisfaction of the climactic revelation.
The culprit of this is the pacing. The film wastes no time in getting into the case, and builds itself nicely over the next eighty minutes, then in the final twenty strangely sprints to a conclusion, as if it got bored of the story it was telling. This could be because it inexplicably gives part of the revelation away for no reason whatsoever with an utterly needless shot just before this final sprint to the finish line. However up to this point the film keeps you drawn into the events by following Detective Bruce Kenner struggle to cope with the mental weight of the case, as nightmares and paranoia wreak havoc on his well-being, and that is completely down to the steadfast acting of Ethan Hawke. As for some of the cast, the same can not be said about their efforts, though some of it is down to the actual writing of the characters.
Firstly we have the Chief of Police, whom is an bumbling joke, and the rest of the station just come across as dumb uniformed lemmings being told to go from A to B. Thankfully we don’t have to put up with them too much. Secondly we have Emma Watson, and I’m incredibly conflicted on her efforts. As I watched the film her acting came across as cringe worthy and slightly embarrassing, especially considering she is opposite Ethan Hawke for most of her scenes. But with a flat generic victim character that would not be out of place on a serialised police TV show, what else can you expect? However come the credit roll her character evolves to become slightly three dimensional, and her portrayal of the character if intended, could actually be argued to be pretty good. I could be giving them too much credit for that, and it could actually just be plain poor acting by Watson but there are certainly two ways to look at it. Personally I lean towards the latter. **Explanation of this & slight spoiler at the bottom of the review**
Despite having ambivalent feelings on Regression, I am certain about one thing, the story would have made a fantastic novel. Though it moderately works as a film, the story and the overarching narrative it looks to explore would have benefited much more from being in literature form. The restrictions of being a workable, watchable thriller in modern film prevented it from blossoming into something great. With that being said, there are still plot holes and random scenes that stick out like a welt on the forehead, which are more fault of the story direction and editing than the form of media the story is told in. Ultimately Regression is worth a watch, Hawke’s acting and the tense atmosphere created through creepy dream sequences and disorientating regressive hypnosis sessions keep the film engaging up till the final act. From there you’ll be rushed through the case being solved with minimal effort thanks to a billboard.
So Emma Watson’s acting… If you don’t guess by the halfway mark, or at the very latest by the time you see her character cold call Ethan Hawke, her character essentially makes everything up. That is right, it is all a lie by Emma Watson because she hates her family and life. So if you take into consideration that all of her sadness, fear and stories are in fact fake, meaning her actions in the film are all part of an act, then her performance can be considered pretty darn good. It could easily just be it’s rubbish acting but that is up to you to decide.