Regression (2015)

*. Poor Ethan Hawke. He seems to be showing up quite a bit in these sorts of projects. But at least Sinister and The Purge made a lot of money, and working on Boyhood probably kept him happy, off and on, for a decade. Being a scruffy Everyman means you can always find some kind of work.
*. Hawke is actually a novelist as well as an actor. So is David Thewlis. I wonder what they thought of Regression‘s worthless script.
*. I know what Emma Watson thought of it. It’s written all over her face. I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor so obviously embarassed at what they were doing.
*. OK, you’ll have got the impression I didn’t like Regression. It’s a movie set in Minnesota in the Year of Our Lord 1990. This was around the time of the “Satanic ritual abuse” hysteria, and the story involves a cop (Hawke) and a psychiatrist (Thewlis) investigating a girl’s claim that her family are part of a coven of baby-killing devil-worshippers.
*. There are several ways they could have played such material, but they didn’t settle on any one in particular and so ended up with a mess. At times it achieves a certain dark atmosphere, and there are a couple of effective moments when we can feel Hawke slipping into paranoia, but as we go along we begin to wonder just how the events we’ve been witnessing will finally be resolved. And then they aren’t.
*. I think the way things wrap up, and you may insert a spoiler alert here, was the only responsible option. Watson’s character is a brat who, disgusted at her poor and dysfunctional family, made up her stories of ritual abuse. That’s fine, but it leaves much unexplained (like the suicide of the grandmother) while leaving unexplored any deep examination of the social and cultural phenomenon of these tragic modern witch hunts.
*. It seems to me that in such a story the psychiatrist Dr. Raines should be the hero. He’s the man of science and objective observer who stands outside the virus of mass hysteria that infects the town. But for some reason he’s almost entirely dropped from the second half of the film. I thought from Thewlis’s first appearance that they were going to let him play the Donald Pleasence character from Halloween, but no such luck. The script has nothing for him to do at all.
*. Another interesting angle left unexplored is the sexual attraction between Hawkes and Watson. However I don’t want to bother trying to think of all the ways the movie could have been better. There was some potential here for an interesting movie but it went unrealized. No point in saying more.

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