Regression review: 'gory and corny'
E than Hawke is one of the most naturally plausible screen actors working today, but Regression is the film that has finally defeated him. Not even he can sell you on the psychological turmoil of a man who’s haunted by a sachet of Cup-a-Soup.
This is, believe it or not, one of the less absurd twists of Alejandro Amenábar’s supernatural thriller, in which Hawke plays Bruce Kenner, a Minnesotan plain-clothes cop who’s investigating a suspected local outbreak of devil-worship.
From its occult premise to the voguishly dingy 1990s period setting and plentiful shots of greenish oil refineries, the film desperately wishes it were True Detective – though its plot feels heavily inspired by the notorious "West Memphis Three" case of 1993, in which a trio of Arkansas teenagers were wrongly convicted of murdering three young boys in a stomach-churning blood rite.
The victim here is still alive, but only just. She’s Angela (Emma Watson), a frail and troubled teenager whose father John (David Dencik) confesses to having sexually abused her, even though he has no specific memory of the crime. Baffled, Kenner turns to Dr Raines (David Thewlis), an English hypnotherapist with both the appearance and personality of an illegally dumped armchair.
The doctor uses regression therapy to draw out the gory particulars, and gory is indeed the word for them.
Angela, it transpires, was an unwilling participant in some dread Satanic ceremony – and further details gleaned from her waifish runaway
brother (Devon Bostick) and distressed-leather handbag of a grandmother (Dale Dickey) paint a truly Boschian picture of child sacrifice and ritualistic rape in the moonlit backwoods. The initially sceptical Kenner is shaken, and suspects he might be the next target of this murderous cabal. And this is where, among other things, the Cup-a-Soup comes in.
As the director of The Others and Open Your Eyes, Amenábar is no stranger to psychologically vivid thrillers with ghostly overtones, but Regression feels depressingly like journeyman work. A few flourishes make an impression – close-ups of the hooded figures evoke the flash-frames of the demon Pazuzu in The Exorcist – but they’re exclusively visual, and tend to be defanged by the corny sound effects (so much backwards whispering) and snarlingly unsubtle score.
By all rights, Watson should be the film’s unnerving heart, but her role – through the fault of the script, rather than the actress – is pure dramatic cardboard. As for the wisdom of building a did-she-didn’t-she guessing game around a vulnerable young woman’s rape testimony, the choice feels at best unfortunate.
The real West Memphis Three case has already been well-served by cinema, in Atom Egoyan’s underrated procedural Devil’s Knot, the Paradise Lost documentaries, and Amy Berg’s excellent West of Memphis. All of those films took a sober, analytical tack that was at shivery odds with the lurid material. Regression fails by trying to have it both ways: you just can’t feel sceptical and scared at the same time.Regression: watch the trailer Play! 02:10