What an incredibly frustrating film Regression turned out to be. It’s competently made, well-acted, and contains interesting ideas that are suitably unnerving; ingredients that make it all the more disappointing when its ultimate culmination results in a resounding whimper rather than a wow.
Director Alejandro Amenabar knows his way around dark material, and for a great deal of Regression’s runtime we are lured in with an eerie plot involving Satanists and memory regression, but he unfortunately appears to damage his own film with the way he decides to wrap the story up.
In 1990 Minnesota, Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke), seemingly the only dedicated detective in a small town filled to the brim with underwhelming police investigators, happens upon a most interesting case: a father, John Gray (David Dencik), has admitted to molesting his young daughter, Angela (Emma Watson).
Though he ruefully confesses, he doesn’t actually remember committing the act itself, and the pictures he supposedly took during the act are nowhere to be found as he can’t recall where he placed them. Similarly, John’s mother (Dale Dickey) can’t provide any concrete answers, and the fact that his young son (Devon Bostick) is missing only adds to the intrigue and confusion surrounding the case.
Seeking assistance from psychiatrist Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis), a doctor who practices regression therapy – a hypnosis tactic that allows the victim or perpetrator to retreat into their mind to uncover memories that aren’t immediately forthcoming – Bruce gradually starts to believe there are darker forces at work, and when both John and Angela start remembering the incident more clearly, this time accentuated with hooded figures and ritualistic ceremonies, his investigations lead him to a potential cult lurking underneath this unassuming town.
Though it becomes eventually evident that Amenabar isn’t here to deliver a traditional horror film, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the more pensive message he wants to convey, he convinces us for most of Regression that we’re in for a thrilling journey. He delivers a handful of decent twists and effective imagery – sequences involving the Gray family barn are particularly nightmarish – and the film as a whole is doused in an air of gloom that you can’t help but think it’s all going to end with a morbid bang.
Amenabar is a talented director, but Regression feels like a step backwards from his more proven work like The Others and Open Your Eyes as he fails to follow through here in the same manner he so successfully executed with his former titles.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)