DVD Review: REGRESSION

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SHOCK looks at Alejandro Amenabar’s latest film, REGRESSION.

It’s not that Alejandro Amenabar’s latest film REGRESSION is a bad movie. It’s just a pointless one. It’s a mystery bereft of any real mystery. It’s a film in which its characters are deeply ingrained in a conspiracy so transparent that the audience quickly detaches from them and their fruitless, flailing pursuits. There’s no tension in the film. No terror. No emotional thrust and no real reason to keep watching it to the end.

And yet it’s not exactly a bad movie. It can’t be a bad movie. Because Amenabar is such a good filmmaker, with such an eye for atmosphere, that REGRESSION is just as visually sensual as his previous masterpieces, OPEN YOUR EYES, TESIS and his first American film, THE OTHERS. But inside its gauzy, handsomely designed walls rests an empty house…

The movie blows its wad in in the opening, when it reveals that it’s based on a true story. Any supernatural-based film that claims to be steeped in fact is automatically letting its audience know that any horrors it reveals must be ultimately grounded in the natural world, thus de-fanging any enigma from the outset. The story first follows Detective Bruce Kenner (played at full bluster by Ethan Hawke) who storms into his Minnesota cop shop to question bumbling farmer John Gray (David Denick), a man who’s 17 year old daughter Angela (HARRY POTTER’s Emma Watson) has accused him of ritual sexual abuse. And yet, though he admits guilt…the man has no memory of his crimes.

Taking refuge in her local Church, Angela eventually claims that her family are in fact members of a Satanic cult (the picture takes place in the 1990s, during the swoon of the so-called “Satanic Panic”) and that her incestuous rape was part of a ceremony to usher her into that very cult.

Kenner brings in his pal, hypnotist Kenneth Raines (THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU’s Davis Thewlis) to get the truth out of the accused patriarch. What he finds implicates a fellow detective and soon, the witch-hunt is on, with Kenner losing his marbles and fearing that dark forces are conspiring against him.

But is Angela’s testimony to be trusted?

Of course it isn’t. We know this from frame one. We can see right through her manipulations. This isn’t the fault of Watson, who does the best she can with the material. She – and every actor in the picture – are betrayed by a wafer-thin script (penned by Amenabar himself) that asks us to stay involved and engrossed in the story, even though we know it’s all a sham. This is not THE CRUCIBLE. It’s not THE DEVILS. The central thrust of mass-hysteria and the true evil it births is never effectively or intelligently explored, rather we are forced to hang out with Hawke’s raving Kenner, who is unlikable, gullible, bullish and terminally stupid.

None of it works.

On the positive side,  Amenabar’s masterly grasp of macabre imagery provides the film’s few frissons in the form of sweaty, gory, mean-spirited dream sequences, phantasmagorias that otherwise have no place in the body of the picture. The movie was shot in 2013 and over the next year endured a myriad reshoots. One wonders if these overtly horrific sequences were part of that plan, perhaps at the behest of the Weinsteins, who then bumped it around their release schedule for over a year.

REGRESSION is misguided, silly, shallow and forgettable. But again, it’s still not really a bad movie. Amenabar is incapable of making a bad movie. But this comes close…

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