Taglines: Fear always finds its victim.
Minnesota, 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the case of young Angela (Emma Watson), who accuses her father, John Gray (David Dencik), of an unspeakable crime. When John unexpectedly and without recollection admits guilt, renowned psychologist Dr. Raines (David Thewlis) is brought in to help him relive his memories and what they discover unmasks a horrifying nationwide mystery.
Regression is a Canadian – Spanish – American psychological thriller horror film directed, produced and written by Alejandro Amenábar. The film stars Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson with David Thewlis, Lothaire Bluteau, Dale Dickey, David Dencik, Peter MacNeill, Devon Bostick and Aaron Ashmore. The film had its world premiere at the San Sebastián International Film Festival on September 18, 2015.
The principal photography of the film began on April 15, 2014, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Emma Watson stated, “First day shooting Regression today – a very cool birthday present xx.” The first day of shooting was her 24th birthday which she spent on filming a church scene at University of Toronto Mississauga.
“Regression” is a risky choice of title from a director whose most recent work has fallen short of past glories, setting up all-too-obvious critical punchlines in the event of further decline. So it’s disheartening that Alejandro Amenabar’s sixth feature — and his first since 2009’s nobly overreaching folly “Agora” — is his least characterful and least ambitious to date.
Returning the Spanish helmer to the shadowy psychothriller territory of his earlier work, this allegedly fact-based tale of Satanic suspicions in small-town Minnesota is potboiler material at best, threatening far twistier terrors than those it predictably delivers. Though performed with some perspiring conviction by Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke — as a confessed victim of cult abuse and the agnostic cop investigating her case — the pic is neither disquieting enough to take seriously, nor lurid enough for fright-night indulgence. “Regression” may rep a commercial advance on Amenabar’s difficult last outing, but the devil will mostly get his due in ancillary.
For Hawke, the film follows the lead of “Sinister” and “The Purge” in realising the suitability of his antsy screen presence for horror-tinged fare; for Watson, it’s a relatively undistinguished first dip into adult genre filmmaking, albeit one that effectively plays on (and off) her pinched onscreen vulnerability.
For Amenabar, however, his third English-language feature — a Spanish-Canadian co-production, to be distributed Stateside by Radius-TWC — marks a pretty pale return of the dark side he put on hold for the tony historical drama “Agora” and 2003’s Oscar-winning issue biopic “The Sea Inside.” It may return to the theme of raddled reality that bound “Thesis,” “Open Your Eyes” and his modern-classic ghost story “The Others,” but to considerably less stimulating effect: Alert viewers are offered too many clues upfront to be fully taken in by its blurring of conscious and unconscious perspective.
The title refers to a still-controversial branch of psychotherapy, one that uses hypnosis to make patients relive crucial past experiences, uncovering the repressed roots of trauma in the process. Debate arose in the 1990s, in particular, around the procedure’s potential to fabricate memories rather than recall them. Duly set in 1990 — thus sparing Hawke’s intuitive detective, Bruce Kenner, the rigors of online research — “Regression” pits a range of characters’ memories against each other using this uncanny point of uncertainty, as police try to determine just who ritualistically raped and scarred virginal 17-year-old Angela Gray (Watson). Separated from her family, she instead seeks shelter in the church overseen by Lothaire Bluteau’s strict, solemn reverend.
The film opens with a confession from her disheveled mechanic dad John (David Dencik), though he also admits to having no personal recollection of the crime. A foggy, sonically numb flash of first-person perspective as he enters the station is enough to pre-empt tough-minded Kenner’s lack of faith in John’s memory. Enter Dr. Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis, not without panache as he takes the money and mumbles), an expert British psychoanalyst somehow in less demand outside Minnesota, to practice regression therapy on father and daughter alike. As their respective memories expand, a host of other parties are placed under scrutiny, including Kenner’s young colleague Nesbitt (Aaron Ashmore) and Angela’s reclusive grandmother Rose (Dale Dickey, going all in on crazy-cat-lady disarray).
As evidence begins pointing to the existence of a widespread Satanic collective in town, performing horrific human sacrifices at black-mass gatherings, Kenner’s own stance shifts from guarded skepticism to peaky paranoia. If the narrative’s measured rhythm (and, admittedly, the director’s past form) lead viewers to expect an axis-shifting revelation or reversal, one isn’t quite forthcoming, while one key whodunnit detail is openly revealed at least half an act too early. As the tension over the awful truth slackens, Amenabar at least lands a few simple, heart-quickening scares from his kitsch B-movie imagery alone, from ominously yowling tomcats to black-hooded devil worshippers in full Mephisto makeup — all lit in appropriately uninviting blue-steel fashion by d.p. Daniel Aranyo.
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke, Aaron Ashmore, David Thewlis, Devon Bostick, Dale Dickey, Lothaire Bluteau, Janet Porter
Screenplay by: Alejandro Amenábar
Production Design by: Carol Spier
Cinematography by: Daniel Aranyó
Film Editing by: Carolina Martínez Urbina
Costume Design by: Sonia Grande
Set Decoration by: Friday Myers
Music by: Roque Baños
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Release Date: February 5, 2016