Thursday, September 15, 2016

Regression

3/4

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Lothaire Bluteau, David Dencik, Dale Dickey, Devon Bostick, Aaron Ashmore

Rated R for Disturbing Violent and Sexual Content, and for Language

Beginning in 1982 with the Kern County child abuse case and not concluding until the mid-90's, the United States, and other parts of the world, was gripped with fear about Satanic sex abuse.  The stories the children told were as horrifying as they were bizarre.  Ultimately, it all began with accusations from a grandmother with mental illness, but exploded into social consciousness due to women's anxiety and guilt over leaving their children in the care of others as they went to work, the rise of evangelical Christianity, and the rise of pop psychology regarding repressed memories and recovered-memory therapy.  Add into that police and authority figures interviewing children and toddlers like adults, and you have an explosive situation.  Hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted and many lives were ruined for what ended up being a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

Minnesota, 1990.  Detective Bruce Kenner (Hawke) is investigating allegations that John Gray (Dencik) has been sexually abusing his daughter Angela (Watson).  John admits to his crimes, but there's something funny about it: he has no memory of doing it.  Kenner consults Dr. Kenneth Raines (Thewlis), a local psychology professor, who puts John under hypnosis.  It turns out that John was only filming the abuse, but in reality it was Kenner's fellow cop, George Nesbitt (Ashmore), who raped her.  When they finally interview Angela herself, she claims that her father and George were a part of a satanic cult that performed sadistic rituals on her and others.  The more Kenner investigates, the more horrifying the allegations become, until he believes he himself is in danger.

"Regression" is a rare thriller that provokes thought.  Like "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," it takes an objective look at its subject.  Writer/director Alejandro Amenabar explores the numerous divides that this situation straddles: fact and fiction, faith and science, guilt and innocence.  It's fascinating to think about all of the ideas the film brings up.

The acting is adequate, but not stand out.  Ethan Hawke is a disappointment.  Like in "Daybreakers," he's in take the money and run mode.  It's hard to believe that this is the guy who played the dad in the American classic "Boyhood."  To be fair, he's never bad, but he's definitely not trying.  Emma Watson, freed from clunky dialogue that hampered her in the "Harry Potter" movies, continues to grow as an actress.  She makes her underwritten character real.  The irreplaceable David Thewlis is an odd but effective choice for the psychologist, but it works.  Lothaire Bluteau is flat as the priest, but fortunately he doesn't have a lot of screen time.

There are two ways to watch this movie.  If you turn off your brain, it's a rather average thriller that is at times quite scary.  But if you use your brain and allow the film to work its magic, it's a fascinating and thought-provoking movie.

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