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Stream to Scream: “REGRESSION”

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Alejandro Amenabar’s REGRESSION feels as if it’s a horror offering lost in time. Had this film been conceived, made and released in the ‘90s, the time period in which the film takes place, REGRESSION could have really been an eerie, unsettling film. However, in a post-SIXTH SENSE, post-SESSION 9 genre film landscape, REGRESSION’s bookending chapters weigh down an otherwise terrifying film; a Polanski-esque thriller that plays around with interesting concepts before tearing them asunder in favor for ultra-realism.

Yet with the subject matter front-and-center in REGRESSION, perhaps ultra-realism is one of the few ways to really go about this particular story. When the crux of your film is a child molestation case that gravitates towards something more satanic and supernatural, you can only take so many approaches while remaining sensitive to the real-life cases that don’t deserve to be marginalized as such. Still, considering the nightmarish places REGRESSION navigates- and effectively so-, the potential impact of the film feels ultimately wasted by retreading on every intriguing concept by it’s closing credits.

For those unfamiliar, REGRESSION follows Bruce Kenner, a detective who is investigating the rape of a young woman by her father that allegedly took place when he was in a trance state. Enlisting in the help of a psychoanalyst, Kenner attempts to dig into the memories of the suspect and uncovers that this assault might have an even deeper, darker history behind it. As Kenner falls into the wormhole of regression therapy and a growing conspiracy, he begins to see nightmarish visions of a satanic cult, and the line between reality and fantasy blurs as he gets closer to the truth.

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Now, REGRESSION doesn’t quite nail it’s take-off or landing, but almost mystifyingly so, the second act is an incredibly strong and scary descent into madness. Amenabar uses suspense almost like a game of narrative telephone: as each subsequent interview reveals more and more about the cult in question, their depiction becomes more immersive, terrifying and surreal. In this sense, the filmmaker captures the spirit and atmosphere of nightmare logic incredibly well, even if the third act essentially contradicts every macabre moment before it and attempts to make the psychological horror… well, too psychological.

REGRESSION’s second act works as well as it does thanks to its cast as well, anchored by Ethan Hawke who once again proves how excellent he is as a viable genre lead. Hawke’s gritty detective act may feel familiar at first, but by the time he finds himself wound up in the central mystery, his paranoia is palpable and believably executed. Meanwhile, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Dale Dickey, Aaron Ashmore, David Dencik, Aaron Abrams and Devon Bostick deliver exceptional supporting performances, especially Dickey, Dencik and Bostick as the family thoroughly shaken by the alleged acts.

While REGRESSION is an ultimately problematic film that ends up a bit stale, there is enough horror on display in its superb second act to make any viewing worthwhile. The film’s cult sequences could out-scare some of its overall stronger contemporaries, and the strong performances occasionally outweigh the logic lapses and frustrating plot developments. Though no masterpiece, REGRESSION might just have you sleeping with the lights on, and for a genre film that otherwise deals with truly dark subject matter, that’s a feat unto itself.

REGRESSION is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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