I always love a good detective mystery. So when Ethan Hawke was on-board for "Regression," I was waiting and ready. The film also stars Emma Watson, who may or may not have been sexually abused by her father (David Denick). There also may or may not have been a satanic cult involved in the abuse case. The film is set during 1990 and we are told through title-cards that satanic rituals began popping up all over the United States as early as 1980, and that a huge world of paranoia grew because of it. So we have a Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson in a hard-boiled detective mystery revolving around a possible satanic cult. What's not to like.
When Ethan Hawke's Detective Bruce Kenner interrogates David Denick's John Gray, Gray admits to sexually abusing her daughter when she was 17-years-old. The weird thing is, John Gray can't seem to remember the abuse at all. Kenner seeks help from Dr. Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis, Remus Lupin reunites with Hermoine!). Raines is an expert on Recovered-Memory Therapy, an experimental technique to regain memories. As John Gray begins to shift through his memories, he begins to realize that perhaps there is some truth to the satanic cult being involved and that perhaps some cops in the service may have been involved as well. (One of the cops is played by Shawn Ashmore's twin brother Aaron Ashmore.) Bruce Kenner begins to lose himself in the case.
One thing I liked about "Regression," was just unexpectedly trippy it was. I was not expecting the mood and atmosphere of this movie to jump into the world of the surreal. There are several dream sequences in the movie that truly made me sit up, shaken, wanting to cover my eyes. The movie does a very good job of creating a very authentic world of paranoia. You buy into Kenner's bad dreams, to buy into the hysteria and panic. It is all handled very well. The work done by Hawke and Watson is also very good, and they seem up to the task of making this paranoid work even more believable.
In fact, David Thewlis, David Denick and Aaron Ashmore (whom I was completely convinced was Shawn) all do very good work. Its a very well-acted picture. They create a world of darkness and skepticism and it works in the movie. There are moments where the film feels like a warped film noir from the 1930's, with a very wild twist involved. Even the film's ending feels very much in the vein of the noir films of that era, and I totally dug it. Even if I felt it was kind of an anti-climatic in fashion. I could have sat through a few more moments of the twist.
I think what's surprising about the movie is how tepid the storyline itself is. It feels like a writer had a really good idea for a movie, but it was his first time writing a script. The films writing fails the movie in some major ways. It leans on predictably and the need to have its characters make un-logical decisions. It relies familiar moments instead of trying to be something of its own. Its really too bad, because there are so many good ideas in the movie that could have worked in the hands of a better writer.
So while well-acted, and featuring some powerful scenes, "Regression" never completely gets off the ground.
FINAL GRADE: C+