Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar finally returns to his genre roots with his latest film, the thriller "Regression". His previous entries in the horror/thriller genre, "Thesis", "Open Your Eyes" and "The Others", had all been fantastic and as much as I enjoyed the dramas he made after these films, I really wanted Amenabar to go back and make another thriller. When I heard that his latest film was going to be just that, I was very excited, and it immediately become one of my six most anticipated films of 2015. As luck would have it though, the film was dumped from its original August release date, and as of yet still does not have a release date for both the US and Australian territories. Thank god for the UK though, as they have just released the film on blu-ray, finally giving me the chance to catch up with it. So did it meet my lofty expectations or did Alejandro Amenabar deliver his first dud?
"Regression" begins with a father being accused of an inexcusable crime against his daughter, with the man confessing to the crime even though he has no knowledge of committing the said crime. The police enlist the help of a psychologist who believes performing a technique called regression therapy on the man would be beneficial. By plumbing through the man's repressed memories, the truth could be revealed. However once the therapy begins, it becomes clear that there is a lot more to the whole story, including the cover-up of a group of alleged Satanists with a large number of the town's residents being members of it. Soon, our lead detective on the case, is fighting for his life against a secret group who will do anything to keep their secret quiet.
I think it would be remiss of me to not mention that reviews from the festival screenings were not kind to "Regression" and I assume that these are the main reason the film was bumped from its original release date. The film was accused of being boring, with a premise that felt very tired, and that coming from a director the caliber of Amenabar, it could only be thought of as a disappointment. So whilst this was a highly anticipated film for me, I went into it with tapered expectations. After viewing it now, I think "Regression" has been unfairly maligned. As you would expect from a film made by this director, "Regression" has been expertly made. It has been very well shot and edited, and Carol Spier's production design creates a lived in world full of little details that never draw attention to themselves but help contribute to the dark atmosphere of the film. However in saying all that, "Regression" is an ugly film to look at, which is due to the colour palette used. The world created is a very hazy dreary world, full of dark blues, greys and browns. Bright colours are never used and as such the whole look of the film is never pleasant to the eye. I suppose Amenabar chose to use these colours to represent the increasing tension and darkness associated with the town, but I personally found it a bit of an eye sore.
The main problem with the film, at least for me, is the actual premise of the story which is about the "satanic panic" that apparently was quite widespread in the U.S during the 80's (so the opening scroll of the film tells us). This film is set in 1990, at the tail end of the panic, and although it has been documented to be a real fear back then, it is something I find very silly and am unable to take too seriously. In this regard, "Regression" already is at a disadvantage in that as well as telling its story, it also has to convince me that such a panic exists. Unfortunately, I still couldn't buy into this idea, and as such my enjoyment of the film was tainted right from the beginning. I will say that I appreciated the fact that Alejandro Amenabar attacks the panic with the utmost seriousness and never makes fun of it. In fact whilst watching it, it hit me that his approach was similar to William Friedkin's with "The Exorcist", in that he gives a potentially silly subject all of his respect. However, I still could not buy into it, but this is my baggage I bring into the film and is no fault of the director at all. I will say that Amenabar does a great job of increasing the tension and suspense of the film as it continues along, but sadly the images of the satanic cult performing their rituals came across as far too unbelievable in my mind; again, that's my baggage.
What is great about the film is the lead performance from Ethan Hawke, who I really think is an underrated actor these days. He plays the head detective investigating the case and he does a great job of portraying a man whose paranoia is increasing as he gets more involved in the case. You can feel him slowly losing touch with reality the deeper he gets. This is a man whose dedication to his job cost him his family, and you can see how he lives and breathes through the cases he is involved with. He never shuts down, he is constantly on in regards to the case which makes him a good detective, but not necessarily a good person in that he finds it hard to relate to other people. Ethan Hawke portrays this man with quite an intensity and a hardness that his co-workers on the force bristle against. The big shock of the film is just how little Emma Watson is actually in the film for, considering she is all over the marketing of "Regression". I doubt she would be in the film for any longer than fifteen minutes in total. She plays Angela, the daughter who accuses her father, and it pains me to say that she is not very good in the role at all. She just never comes across as believable for one second, and does not give her role the necessary gravitas needed to make it work. The things she accuses her father of are of a very serious nature, but the way Watson portrays her character you never feel the girls pain. In fact,, I believe Watson has been totally miscast here. I've actually liked her in other roles before but she just seems off here. David Thewlis is fine as the psychologist, but no standout.
I think the reason why "Regression" has so many negative reviews all has to do with the ending of the film. Whilst I will refrain from going into detail about the ending, I will say that the film ends on a whimper rather than a bang and as such Amenabar leaves the audience with a feeling of indifference towards the film. You have to give Amenabar credit for having the balls to end the film on the note he does, because it is not going to please the majority of the audience watching the film who will most likely want a sense of closure to the story, but I guess this is where he sees the story ending in regards to the themes of the film that he is exploring. Personally I found it ended "Regression" on a very flat note, and as such I felt a lot of frustration towards the time I had spent watching the film which could be perceived to be wasted.
Overall, "Regression" is something of a disappointment, especially coming from someone as great as Alejandro Amenabar but it is nowhere near as bad as early reviews suggested. It is a film that never soars, and whilst I appreciate the seriousness Amenabar takes towards the satanic panic, I still couldn't buy into it. Technically though, the film is very well made, and from that point I respected the film but in the end, "Regression" became a kind of nothing film for me. By the time the finale comes around, it felt pointless and I was left feeling frustrated by the whole thing, despite a strong leading performance from Ethan Hawke.