★ / ★★★★
“Regression,” written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, suffers from a lack of genuine intrigue considering that it is inspired by real-life events in the early 1990s when reports of Satanic rituals have spiked. Just about anyone who has taken an undergraduate psychology course should be able to see through the bewilderingly predictable facade. And by doing so, the so-called twist in the film is not only expected but it takes unbelievably long to get there.
The story revolves around a detective named Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) who leads an investigation in a religious small town. Angela (Emma Watson) claims to have been sexually molested by her father (David Dencik) for about a year and has been since living in a church after telling the police what had happened. The suspect is apprehended, questioned, and eventually confesses to the crime, but there is a catch: An alcoholic, John has no memory of what he he had done, allegedly, to his daughter. A professor, Dr. Raines (David Thewlis), an expert in regression therapy, is brought on board to excavate the man’s hidden memories.
A highly simplistic script is one of the film’s main problems. As a result, when characters show up on screen, the viewers are not pushed into a convincing reality—whether it be in terms of the look and atmosphere of the small town or how the players engage with one another. Just about everyone talks the same way and so it fails to give an impression that the story being told is happening in a specific town with specific ways of life.
The level of believability is tantamount to the success or failure of the picture exactly because the material is inspired by actual phenomena. It does not help that some of the casting is completely wrong. For instance, Watson, while trying a lot, sometimes too much, to emote, is not a believable small town girl. Notice that even when they put her in very drab, plain-looking clothing, there remains something regal and polished about her. This is not the performer’s fault—even though there are times when Watson fails to match Hawke’s effortless intensity—but the casting directors’, Jina Jay and Jason Knight.
It would have been far more effective if an unknown or a relatively unknown actor had been cast, preferably one who is a chameleon. Angela should have had an air of mystery and unpredictability to the point where we cannot predict what she is really thinking or feeling at a given time. Here, acting-wise, Watson does not exhibit enough range to communicate the little complexities of what Angela undergoes. Watson seems distracted—perhaps because she is attempting to modulate a convincing American accent while trying to evince the exact emotions the script requires.
There is not enough discussions, contexts, and subtexts about psychology, science, police work, and religion—how they meld into one another to make this specific story worth telling. The picture suffers greatly from a plethora of generalities that at times the viewers cannot be blamed for feeling like the writer-director has not put in enough effort to make his vision into a memorable, curious, horrifying experience.