Despite me having to Google who director and writer Alejandro Amenábar was, I knew that this film was going to be well acted at the very least. With a leading trio made up of Emma Watson (playing Angela Gray), Ethan Hawke (as Bruce Kenner), and David Thewlis (as Professor Kenneth Raines), the director’s job was probably quite easy. (Also, I may be a sucker for the little Harry Potter reunion going on there. Cute).
As an aside: Yes, there might be spoilers, but nothing too detrimental to your viewing pleasure, promise.
I’m not a huge horror/thriller movie fan, and although this is a crime/drama/mystery on IMDb, I did see some of the typical jump-scare tactics employed in this movie (albeit not with the intention of being necessarily scary or gory). I would say that people sensitive to a few disturbing images might use discretion, but I guess you’re expecting as much if you’re watching a movie about Satanic cults and rituals anyway.
And that is the general synopsis of this film: an investigation into some of the conspiracies and reports around Satanic practice cropping-up in the conservative America of the 1980s. A detective, Bruce Kenner, tries to help 17-year-old Angela Gray piece together her unfortunate encounter with sexual assault, cult rituals, abuse, and religion.
The initial scene sets up the premise of the movie as a crime drama, throwing the audience into an interrogation room at a police station in some remote American town. The whole “based on true events” message at the start is the first of many parallels I could draw to any generic horror/thriller movie, but it was still too early for me to say for sure.
As the plot moves along, the mystery is woven into quite a complex string of uncertainty, even though the story itself is not such a complicated one. In terms of the screenplay, this was great, because you were still playing detective without being so confused that you give up even trying. Making it difficult enough that we don’t think the detective is being stupid, while making it easy enough for us to follow along curled up on our couches at home, is not an easy balance to strike, but Regression got this down pretty well.
What I did find really interesting, though, was the use of detective Kenner’s voice recorder. Rather than giving us visuals of whatever stories Kenner recorded during his interrogations or conversations, Amenábar used the audio recordings as Kenner heard them to guide us through the plot. In this way, we only had as many clues as Kenner did, which moved the plot along smoothly without ever giving too much away, and without planting ideas in our heads. The audience imagines their own mystery, and this adds a very exciting dose of suspense to the movie.
The grit in an otherwise well-oiled cast was, sadly, Watson’s American accent. Maybe it’s because I have fallen countless times for her British-ness, but I just couldn’t filter out the unnatural twang Watson was using to mask her normal speech. What made it worse, of course, was that Remus Lup- uh, I mean David Thewlis – was allowed to keep his British accent… how unfair? Admittedly, Watson needed to fit the part of being a puritan American daughter, which wouldn’t have worked with her accent, but still… I think that aspect could have been ironed-out a bit more.
Regarding the horror/thriller parallels I can draw to this movie, I didn’t find them off-putting as much as I thought them unnecessary. I understand that the gore (which really only amounted to as little as some blood and some implied graphic imagery, without showing anything too disgusting), was something I could understand. However, it rained almost every night and the mysterious phone-calls Kenner was receiving never saw any real resolution. I probably wouldn’t have minded the horror clichès so much if they actually turned into something in the end, but it just felt as if – at certain points – Regression was trying to tick boxes. I thought it had enough going for it, that it didn’t need to “tick boxes” at all, so that (for me, anyway) was unnecessary.
Still, the movie was great. I always appreciate appealing cinematography and some of the shots used in this film make incredible stills to watch on screen. The director also made very sure to suit the lighting to the mood of the scene, which sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how often people take that kind of stuff for granted in movie-making these days. The script is also damn good, and although I found a few of Kenner’s lines a little weak for a protagonist (and not artistically vulnerable, just weak), which was irritating, the dialogue in general was really good, and the execution from the cast was awesome to see as well.
All-in-all, the thrill was there, the filming was there, the script was there, and the actors were there too. I would’ve tweaked one or two things had I directed it, but I don’t think minor subjectivity like that should necessarily mean the film isn’t worth watching.
Does it garner my recommendation? Definitely. It’s something a little different, but something which should’ve received more mainstream attention than it perhaps did.
Feature image sourced from www.pop.inquirer.net.