Saturday, 27 February 2021

Movie Review: Regression (2015)

A dramatic thriller with horror elements, Regression enjoys an engaged cast and creepy visuals, but awkwardly shifts tones before stalling altogether. 

It's 1990 in the small (fictional) town of Hoyer, Minnesota. With unsubstantiated stories of evil satanic rituals making the news in various communities, detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates allegations by Angela Gray (Emma Watson) that she was sexually abused by her father John (David Dencik). He admits to the crime but has no recollection of specific events.

Professor Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) suggests hypnosis to trigger "regression" and stimulate memory recall. The resultant interrogations ensnare police officer George Nesbitt (Aaron Ashmore) as part of a satanic cult holding sacrifice rituals. Angela's brother Roy (Devon Bostick), her grandmother Rose (Dale Dickey) and Reverend Murray (Lothaire Bluteau) may all be keeping secrets, and in his quest for the truth Bruce starts to experience disturbing nightmares and possible threats.

Regression is inspired by the wave of panic about satanic cults that obsessed an excitable corner of the news cycle in the 1980s and 1990s. With Ethan Hawke in a determined mood (although both Detective Kenner and Professor Raines appear out of place in a rural backwater), writer and director Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar creates a suitable aesthetic, the grey small town providing a susceptible venue for spooky things. But AmenĂ¡bar cannot quite decide on what story he wants to tell, the limited to non-existent character development and wayward narrative execution undermining any good intentions.

So the film starts with allegations of sexual abuse within a family, expanding to include the involvement of a police officer, and then descriptions of a (very) large number of Satan worshippers wearing dark robes and white make-up, gathering around various beds or in eerie sheds to kill animals and babies. At some point the number of cultists appears to exceed the town's entire population. But then Regression abandons the investigation and becomes more of a horror flick, Bruce succumbing to a series of scary incidents (real or imagined) and getting sucked into a mentally fragile state.

The final act snaps back sharply to a different place entirely, a rational if cinematically sterile resolution condemning multiple characters. Regression exposes multiple overlapping agendas, most of them devilishly misguided.



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