Regression

Posted by Joel Copling on May 9, 2015


Here is a film whose title is a form of self-prophecy. "Regression" admittedly begins at a place of rocky uncertainty, both in terms of how it goes about establishing its narrative and developing its central and ancillary characters and in the aesthetic (a lot of grays and muted blues) by which writer/director Alejandro Amenabar chooses to tell this particular story. The story, by the way, regards the rape of a teenager and the father who was the culprit. There is a lot to say in such a story, but Amenabar seems to want to go in the direction of a cheap genre effort that doesn't even work on that simple level. It starts as mediocre, continues as lazy and repetitive, and then it ends upon a series of obvious "revelations" that give it the feeling of a parlor trick.

The film is also set in the fall of 1990, so those who are vaguely aware of the wellspring of paranoia surrounding a certain religious movement will know exactly where this is going from the get-go (and anyone who has ever seen a psychological thriller will foresee what happens far before it ever gets the point that the film wants him to feel that sensation of familiarity). The teenager in question is a girl of 17 by the name of Angela Gray (Emma Watson), who finds solace in a local church after reporting her father (David Dencik) for a series of sexual assaults from within the previous year. Dad can't remember such a thing, as he repeatedly tells the cops in charge of investigating the claim. A detective named Kenner (Ethan Hawke) and a professor named Raines (David Thewlis) team up to perform something called regression therapy, which involves the stimulation of the mind to recall repressed memories.

This is not a film that trusts its rather simple set-up or the science at its center. It would much rather consistently call the process to question with a series of increasingly risible plot developments. There's some business with Angela's grandmother (Dale Dickey), a woman with rather ungainly physical features that the film puts to egregious use in a nightmare sequence as unintentionally funny as it is superfluous. Her brother Roy (Devon Bostick) wants nothing to do with the investigation, the other cops on the force smirk when the possibility of a Satanic cult is brought up, and the whole production becomes even more laughable as the specter of a giant cat with red eyes is introduced and the machinations of that cult come to light.

Watson is the only actor present whose performance allows her to escape with some dignity, capturing a certain amount of desperation even when the climax plays the film's final, disingenuous card. Hawke, usually a fine actor, looks mightily uncomfortable with the material he's given, and Thewlis' performance is downright annoying (although fans of a certain fantasy novel series will find the few scenes between the actor and Watson amusing in this context). This is not a movie for those who enjoy appreciating performances, however. It's all about trying to foreshadow everything in site. Even on that potentially simplistic level, Amenabar fails spectacularly. "Regression" is a good reminder that there is a difference between foreshadowing all of your narrative developments and merely jerking the audience around. It's maddening.

Film Information


Ethan Hawke (Bruce Kenner), Emma Watson (Angela Gray), Dale Dickey (Rose Gray), David Dencik (John Gray), Devon Bostick (Roy Gray), David Thewlis (Kenneth Raines), Lothaire Bluteau (Rev. Beaumont), Aaron Ashmore (George Nesbitt), Peter MacNeill (Chief Cleveland).

Directed and written by Alejandro Amenabar.

Rated R (disturbing violent/sexual content, language).

106 minutes.

Released in select cities on February 5, 2016.