Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2016)
Back in 2001, Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar earned a decent hit in the US with The Others. After that, though, Amenabar focused on Spanish films before he took a six-year break from features of any sort.
Amenabar returns to the director’s chair with 2015’s psychological thriller Regression. Set in Minnesota circa 1990, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates a case of sexual abuse. John Gray (David Dencik) admits that he molested his daughter Angela (Emma Watson) but he maintains no actual memories of these deeds.
To spur the investigation, Professor Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) uses an experimental method that may help bring back Gray’s memories. This opens the proverbial can of worms, as a conspiracy may evolve, one that involves a satanic cult.
I don’t think I’ve seen The Others since 2001, so I don’t remember it especially well. Still, I think I recall that it offered a pretty involving, creepy little understated take on a ghost story. I’m not sure I felt it lived up to its consistently strong reviews, but I thought it worked.
Unfortunately, Regression shows little to none of the filmmaking talent that turned Others into an effective piece. Honestly, it feels like a project led by amateurs, as it seems relentlessly muddled and dull.
How can a movie about devil worship be so persistently blah? Regression feels like too many modern horror movies in that it lacks much real suspense and it usually attempts to “scare” us with cheap jolts.
That said, Regression does try harder than most of its peers to present a creepy, unnerving atmosphere. It takes the “psychological” part of its theme seriously and attempts to get us inside Bruce’s head, especially as the case gets to him and threatens to send him around the bend.
Alas, these efforts fail. The film’s stabs at darkness tend to feel silly, and they lack the dramatic heft they need. We never invest in the issue of Bruce’s potential loss of sanity because the movie never makes this path especially interesting.
Instead, the movie simply meanders from one dull scene to another. Even when the tale goes dark, the results seem so goofy that we don’t buy into them. The film needs an eerie, ominous tone that it completely lacks.
Because of this, Regression turns into a slow, boring journey without any of the psychological impact it needs. The movie hopes to scare us with its dark trek but the results seem flat and free from punch.