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Regression (2015)

The Weinstein Company
DVD Released: 5/10/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/11/2016

For the sake of this discussion, there are two kinds of Americans -- those who know foreign films and those who don't. For those who don't, even if they occasionally see a movie from outside of the U.S. (or Britain), they typically don't pay attention to those behind the camera. So, when a foreign filmmaker can begin to get a toehold in America, it should be a big deal.

In the late 1990s, Spanish filmmakers Alejandro Amenabar was making a name for himself in Spain for his thrillers. His 1996 debut Tesis, put a modern spin on the slasher film, while the follow-up Abre Los Ojos, while a mash-up thriller which Cameron Crowe butchered with his remake Vanilla Sky. But, it was 1999ís The Others which proved to be an international break-out hit for Amenabar. The film grossed nearly $100 million in the U.S. alone, earned a Golden Globe nomination for Nicole Kidman and was even spoofed in Scary Movie 3. However, instead of capitalizing on this and making more horror-tinged films with international appeal, Amenabar made a drama in 2004 (The Sea Inside) and a $70 million epic in 2009 (Agora). The former did win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but the second didnít make a splash in America. With Regression, Amenabar presumably returns to his thriller roots, and has brought a well-known cast with him.

The year is 1990, and tales of satanic cults are making headlines. Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is a police detective in a small Minnesota town who is investigating a case of child abuse involving John Gray (David Dencik), who has been accused of sexually assaulting his daughter, Angela (Emma Watson). While John is in police custody, Angela has been taken in by Reverend Beaumont (Lothaire Bluteau) at the local church. Johnís confession has puzzled Kenner, as he states that he did it, but he canít remember doing it. Psychologist Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) is brought in to help and he uses regression hypnosis on John to help him remember. His story then suddenly involves a local policeman. Kenner finally gets to interview Angela and she describes a horrific scene in which a group of people in hooded robes assaulted her. Kenner and Raines track down Angelaís brother (Devon Bostick) and he gives a similar account of hooded figures. Is there a cult in town which is behind all of this?

It seems that about once a decade, America is gripped by ďSatanic PanicĒ, at least for a short time, and a part of the populous is convinced that satanic cults are performing crimes and acts of perversion, despite the fact that the FBI has stated that they have found no evidence to support this. (I personally donít ever remembering hearing any big news stories about this phenomenon, but devil cult horror movies still come around from time-to-time. Now, other sorts of religious cults on the other hand...) This sort of widespread-panic and cultural event certainly seems like a good topic for a movie.

Itís too bad that Regression does absolutely nothing with it. After being away from the genre for over a decade, itís as if Amenabar, once a budding master of tension, has forgotten how to make movies, as this film fails on every level. Along with directing Regression, Amenabar wrote the script as well, and the story is nearly non-existent. (Did something get lost in translation?) This is one of those movies which keeps telling us what itís about instead of showing us. We hear people talk about the satanic cult scare and we are shown books and magazines which deal with it, but no one but Keener seems very concerned. We simply watch Keener and Raines go from scene-to-scene talking to people and seemingly coming up with no leads, despite the fact that they keep telling us that they have. The film contains one revelation and one twist. The revelation, which involves visions which Keener has been having, is mind-numbingly stupid. The twist...well, the twist is one of those where most viewers will say, ďOh, Iím sorry. Were we not supposed to know that?Ē Yes, the big reveal is obvious from the get-go and itís just another piece of the film which never gels.

Not only have Amenabarís skills as a story-teller faded, as have his filmmaking abilities. He goes for a Fincher-esque dark look here, but it borders on ridiculous, as there isnít a single room in the film which is significantly well-lit. (Apparently everyone in this movie has that allergy to light which afflicted the characters in The Others.) This overly-dark look doesnít help a film where very little is being revealed in the first place. Remember the tension in Tesis when Angela was being pursued? You wonít find anything like that here, as there is a never a sense that anyone is in danger. The one chase sequence is so non-sensical that it has no effect on the audience.

Iíve been waiting for Amenabar to return to the genre for a long time and Regression is a crushing disappointment. I canít help but note that the film was shot in early 2014 and help but wonder if the studio had no idea what to do with this dud. Movies like The Purge and Sinister have put Ethan Hawke on a recent roll with horror movies and youíve got Hermione from Harry Potter, but I can see how there was no way to market this stinker. Perhaps Amenabar needs to concentrate on making another thriller in Spain. Again, the idea of a movie about dangerous cults is a good one, but Regression makes The House of the Devil look like a roller coaster ride.

Regression convinced me that I was losing my vision on DVD courtesy of The Weinstein Company. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Perhaps Iíve been spoiled by Blu-ray Discs, but the image here is simply too dark. In some scenes, it was hard to discern what was happening. This dark look directly impacts the depth and detail of the image. The few colors seen here, mostly reds, did look OK. The DVD does excel in the audio department. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is one of the best surround sound tracks that Iíve heard in years. Someone who worked on this mix loves putting it in the rear as we are treated to nearly constant surround sound effects. These effects are highly-detailed and come into play when a sound comes from behind the characters or when whispering voices are heard. If only this audio track had belonged to a good movie! The subwoofer and stereo effects are impressive as well.

The Regression DVD contains a a few extras. "Bruce's Obsession" (2 minutes) examines Hawke's character and contains comments from Hawke, Amenabar, Watson, Thewlis, and Producer Fernando Bovaria. Similarly, "The Complexity of Angela" (3 minutes) focuses on Watson's characters and has Watson and Amenabar chiming in. "The Cast of Regression" (2 minutes) quickly touches on the main cast and characters, involving some of the same soundbytes which we just heard. "The Vision of Regression" (3 minutes) actually focuses more on the themes of the film, as opposed to the look of the movie.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long