Have you ever watched a movie so terrible that you wanted your money back, only to realize you were streaming the movie on Amazon Prime so you couldn’t rightly demand anything back except maybe your time? Well, that pretty much sums up my experience watching Alejandro Amenábar’s clumsy and ill-conceived supernatural thriller Regression. Before the hate rolls in, I must admit several things: I love Alejandro Amenábar, Emma Watson is my hero, and I think Ethan Hawke is a fantastic actor, writer, and director. Because of this, I may have had higher-than-usual expectations for Regression, despite the lackluster trailer and hackneyed synopsis. Horror movies rarely have the trifecta of a good cast, great director, and interesting plot, so Regression in many ways looked perfect on paper and I wanted it not only to be a good movie, but as good, if not better than Amenábar’s predecessor: The Others.
Because I am a nostalgic and horror movie junkie, let’s briefly re-visit 2001: “Skater Boi” by Avril Lavigne was my jam, I may or may not have had an emo styled mullet thanks to my obsession with the Warped Tour scene, and I religiously watched the show “Roswell” like it was my job. More importantly, a little movie called The Others made its state side debut and it’s safe to say that it was the only sustainable thing that survived that year (the mullet sadly was short lived). Like most horror fans, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved The Others. Amenábar wrote, directed, and produced the atmospheric supernatural film and I strongly believe it to be one of the finest in the genre. I happened to watch it again this past Halloween, during a marathon bender of horror flicks and it was still as creepy and ominous as I remembered with a stellar and lasting performance by Nicole Kidman.
Needless to say, because of the The Others, I anxiously waited for Alejandro Amenábar’s next game changing horror movie to hit the screens. That wait lasted 15 years due to Amenábar’s hiatus from the movie industry, and unfortunately it is not the comeback I expected or wanted from a writer and director who, up until now, has shown masterful prowess as a storyteller.
Regression follows Bruce Kenner, a small town detective investigating a man accused of abusing his 17 year old daughter, Angela (played by Emma Watson). She claims that several people, including her dad, sexually and physically abused her ritualistically for months: adorning black masks and white makeup, while sacrificing animals and babies to their ‘God.’ Upon hearing these claims, a confused John Gray admits that he has no recollection of the abuse and that he must be ‘blocking out’ the horrific acts he is accused of. A psychiatrist is brought in to help John regain his memory (and to get a confession) using a technique called regression, where memories can be regained through the power of suggestion. Despite Detective Bruce’s skepticism of this technique, both John and his daughter begin regaining twisted and macabre memories of her abuse that stuns and torments the small town cop. In an attempt to get to the bottom of the case, Bruce teeters on the brink of insanity as his investigation leads to hysteria and panic in the community, but also uncovers long buried secrets that soon threaten his career and life.
From the get-go, the premise sort of lost me; The film takes place during the 90’s, where a wave of real life ‘satanic panic’ was taking place in our country (i.e. The Salem Witch Trials of the modern times). The short end of it is that kids were making false allegations of satanic abuse that were believed by damn near everyone. It was a super crazy time in our country and despite how ludicrous most of the allegations were (and that the accusers often changed their stories several times), many people were falsely accused and tried for atrocious crimes. I believe Regression was Amenábar’s attempt at asking “what if some of these crazy ass allegations are true?” because honestly, what’s more terrifying than finding out the boogie man is real or that your nice next door neighbor is secretly sacrificing lambs in his or her shed? If this was Amenábar’s thinking going in to the film, I can’t fault him for his interesting approach, but it just wasn’t tackled very well.
Instead of being a frightening film about the real (or imagined) evil lurking about, I kept asking myself “so what,” during the whole movie. Angela’s (played by the wonderful and talented Emma Watson) initial allegations are bizarre to say the least, but honestly not noteworthy enough to invest 90 minutes trying to make sense of them. Additionally, she was only in the movie for about 15 minutes! Fifteen whole minutes. The bulk of the film is just Ethan Hawke running around trying to figure out who the black clothed people are from Angela’s initial accusations. The ‘horror’ elements of the film were regulated to a few failed jump scares and hallucinations that were neither scary nor believable.
Regression unfortunately seems to be another movie classified as ‘horror’ because of certain horrific themes, but in fact should be classified as a ‘thriller’ with scary elements. I watched the film only because it was available on Amazon Prime, and I never turn down a Prime suggestion, but honestly wish I could un-watch the film (dare I say… suppress it) and that The Others was the only horror film on Amenábar’s nearly flawless filmography.
Regression gets a final rating of 2.5 hallucinations out of 5 from this chick.