PLOT: A detective in a small Minnesota town uncovers potentially satanic doings when he investigates a case involving a father who confesses to molesting his daughter.
REVIEW:REGRESSION is a frustrating film. It's well made, relatively well acted; it contains interesting ideas and manages to creep under your skin for a stretch... and then it blows it all up with a massively unsatisfying conclusion. The film acts as sort of a bait and switch; it lures us in with an eerie plot about satanists and memory regression, then pulls the rug out from under us when it reveals itself to be something of a morality tale. There's nothing wrong with what director Alejandro Amenábar is trying to convey to us, but his movie is unfortunately hurt by the way he goes about it. A resounding "Oh..." is, at best, going to be the prevailing reaction to it.
The scene is Minnesota, 1990. Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is an intense, not-so-nice detective in a small town full of dopey cops who happens upon an interesting case: a father (David Dencick) has tearily admitted to molesting his young daughter (Emma Watson), but for some reason he can't actually remember doing it. He says he's taken pictures of the act, but he doesn't know where the pics are. His mother (Dale Dickey) is mortified but can't provide any answers, and his son is missing, perhaps also the victim of some foul play. Bruce digs into the case with the help of a psychiatrist (David Thewlis) who practices regression therapy, which is a hypnosis that allows the victim - or perpetrator - to retreat into his mind and uncover memories that aren't readily forthcoming. Det. Kenner is a hard-nosed skeptic at first, but when both the father and daughter start remembering the incident clearly - which is now accentuated with hooded figures and ritualistic ceremonies - he becomes a believer real quick.
What appears to be lurking under the surface of this otherwise normal small town is a cabal of satan worshippers who do such unholy things as sacrificing babies in barns. While the family he's investigating may or may not be involved in this cult, Kenner pursues the case doggedly, examining all angles and possibilities. Soon enough he's seeing the same kind of foreboding figures the traumatized daughter has. Is this a matter of Kenner's mind being poisoned by the testimonies of those he's interrogating, or has he just put a bullseye on his back for a clan of Lucifer-loving murderers?
Amenábar keeps us relatively interested in the mystery for a while, adding a few intriguing twists here and there and satisfying our thirst for B-movie thrills with a handful of unnerving horror sequences (that's an eerie f*cking barn). Still, REGRESSION never takes off; a glum, unexciting atmosphere hangs over the proceedings that holds the movie back, and even when it's at its best it still comes off like a glorified TV cop procedural. There's a lot of rain and long shadows to intensify the morbid mood, the sets are effectively ominous, but Amenabar always appears to be holding back just a bit, not willing to dive fully into the possibilities of his thriller. The movie sits there, as we sit there, waiting to pounce and hit us with a good shocker, but that doesn't come to pass.
When the other shoe drops, we find out why. Amenábar isn't really trying to make a horror movie, he's trying to deliver a more contemplative message. I won't spoil exactly what he's aiming for, but his revelation at the end lands with a thud; it's the kind of conclusion that leaves you shrugging your shoulders and wondering, "So why was I just watching that? Thanks for nothing." It's a shame, because Amenábar is a talented director, as he's proven with films like THE OTHERS, OPEN YOUR EYES and THE SEA INSIDE. Here he's able to entice us even though he's not at the top of his game, but entice is all he does. There's no delivery of requested goods.
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