October 20, 2015
For a long time, Alejandro Amenabar has been one of my favorite writer-directors for the twisted suspense thrillers. He was quite prolific at the turn of the century -- "Thesis" (1996), "Open Your Eyes" (1997) and his English-language debut "The Others" (2001). His biographical drama "The Sea Inside" won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004. Since then though, his output had been sparse. That was why when I heard that he will be releasing a new film this year entitled "Regression," I made sure I went to watch it.
17-year old Angela Gray accused her father of sexually abusing her. Detective Bruce Kenner was assigned to her case. The father meekly admitted to the crime, but did not actually recall doing it. Kenner sought the help of Psychology professor Kenneth Raines to elicit his repressed memories, as well as those of the other members of the Gray family, via hypnotic regression. What was revealed from these sessions were diabolical confessions of such disturbing nature that Kenner himself could not get them out of his own mind.
Ethan Hawke is such a good actor, really. From his feature debut in "Dead Poet's Society", then "Before Sunrise" (and its series), "Gattaca", "Sinister" to his Oscar-nominated performances in "Training Day" and "Boyhood," this guy can really portray the most ordinary characters and wind up making them very memorable. His intense take of the obsessed Bruce Kenner was riveting and infectious. His visions become our visions, his beliefs our beliefs. He had a flawless interactive rapport with Amenabar's camera, registering and conveying the anger, paranoia, confusion, and fear of his character so well onscreen.
Emma Watson returns on her trajectory to becoming a serious movie actress after being sidelined by unfortunate roles in "This is the End" and "Noah". The talent and the promise are there, but the connection with her role as the troubled Angela was not as convincing as that of Hawke's. Her best performances were still those for Hermione Granger. Her young adult performances in films like "Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "The Bling Ring" had a certain unnatural stiffness in them, as it was again here as well.
A credible supporting performance was given by David Dencik as Angela's conflicted repentant father John. I wished David Thewlis was given more to do as Prof. Raines. Going a bit over the top was Dale Dickey and her exaggeratedly demented performance as Angela's grandmother Rose. The strangest casting decision was that of Lothaire Bluteau as the priest Reverend Murray. He exuded such a creepy vibe, which of course may be the director's intention.
While "Regression" was still not on the same level of excellence as "Open Your Eyes" or "The Others", but Alejandro Amenabar returned to form with this comeback project of sorts. The script, though weak and flawed in certain aspects (like motive, for one important example), was still logical and grounded despite dealing with controversial religious and psychological matters. The storytelling engages you despite the dark unpleasant topics and relentlessly morbid atmosphere. I am looking forward to the next Amenabar opus. I hope it does not take so many years anymore. 7/10.