The first narrative feature from Alejandro Amenábar in six years is an eclectic mix of things. Although they don’t add up to the lean, compelling elegance of either The Others (2001) or The Sea Inside (2004) – that one-two punch which put the Spanish director firmly on the map – the experience of going through such a sauna of sensory stimulations proves nonetheless exciting.
The movie begins very much like your run-of-the-mill police thriller, with a stone-faced cop (Hawke) bent on solving a crime when a young girl (Watson) accuses her father of molestation and abuse. Grim but unsensational, the story unfolds with the calculated intrigue and unchallenging prose of an easy airport read. After a regression therapist (Thewlis) is brought in to hypnotise the parties involved, however, things get increasingly nasty, pushing the picture ever deeper into the realm of hardcore horror. And just as you’re settling into the mode of a proper scary movie, ready for the climatic bloodbath to arrive, that’s when the biggest shock hits and the film reveals itself to be about none of those things at all.
The story, especially its ostentatious twist ending, will infuriate many for an ill-concealed air of smugness. But while it certainly isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, leaving retrospective plot holes left and right, the decision at its core to take the battle inside, turn it into a man’s fight to stay sane, is appealing and spookily effective. Through Amenábar’s typically strong visualization, the sense of paranoia, of a desperation to hold onto reason, positively leaps off the screen in certain scenes.
Skillfully executed and performed on a seemingly shrill but in fact highly conceptual script that could have been developed more gracefully, Regression is a pretend studio production with a raging indie heartbeat. It doesn’t get the balance trick quite right yet, so the tonal shifts come off forced at times. The vigor, style and decibel, however, combine to ensure a ride full of unexpectedly wicked fun.
Regression | Directed by Alejandro Amenábar (USA 2015) with Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke. Starts Oct 1