October is here (unless you are reading this at a different time of the year, it is the internet after all), and with it come a slew of films that want to be the one that you sit down to watch to get into the Halloween spirit. Several films are running for the top spot this year, including Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (no seriously, that’s its name) or Mexican horror master Guillermo Del Toro’s new film Crimson Peak, as well as Regression, the newest film from horror director Alejandro Amenabar, famous for the critically acclaimed The Others back in 2001. Despite a fourteen year gap, does Amenabar still have the horror touch?
Regression stars Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson and David Thewlis and is directed by Alejandro Amenabar. Detective Bruce Kenner (Hawke) is dragged into sinister occurrences involving satanic cults and human sacrifices, when a father confesses to abusing his teenage daughter (Watson) but has no recollection of committing the act.
The acting is a mixed bag. Ethan Hawke plays Bruce Kenner as a simple police officer, trying to do the best for the community he works in. As the film progresses we see him sink deeper and deeper in the conspiracy that could be around any corner, scratching away at his veil of calmness until he is almost a nervous wreck. David Thewlis seems to be having a fun time being psychologist Professor Raines, even though most of his dialogue seems to revolve around sighing and stroking his beard. Everyone else though feels rather caricatured, with Emma Watson seeming to do nothing but cry and whimper (in an unconvincing American accent). The rest of the small town’s inhabitants fare a little better, as their stilted acting has a semblance of the uncanny about it, giving Regression an off-kilter charm.
While the story is an original script from Amenabar, Regression feels like a collection of lots of other films and TV shows. There are elements of Twin Peaks, Silent Hill and a healthy dose of the first season of True Detective, down to the grim tone, rural surroundings and evil cults that prey on the younger citizens. Despite this, Amenabar manages to rework these overused tropes into a very taut tale of paranoia and debauchery, peeling back the mask of civilised country towns to reveal the dark corners of society.
The film starts of fairly slow and rather formulaic, as the film just potters around with police procedures and other fairly un-engaging activities on screen. Thankfully the film does pick up as the actual investigation gets underway. This is the main meat of the film, and the scares and great moments of tension seems to just start pouring out, as if Regression was trying to hold them all in during the introduction before finally letting them go. There are some excellent scary scenes here, with a standout being Kenner listening to a description of a black mass, while he pictures it on screen for us to watch. It’s intense and builds to a terrifying and gruesome finale including scenes of a human sacrifice and cannibalism.
One great thing that I love about the scares in Regression is that almost none of them are of the loud-bang variety. Each one has a build up, the tension mounting as the main character of the scene makes their way closer to the danger, with Amenabar milking the suspense for all it’s worth before finally revealing the “monster” to his character. We rarely get to see the thing that terrifies the characters, rather we watch their reaction and their futile attempts to escape. This is a great feature of Regression, where we terrify ourselves because we don’t know what is chasing the characters, scaring ourselves with what our imagination creates as a stand in.
However, the major problem that Regression has is it’s ending. With the films use of creepy subject matter, I was hoping to see a giant finale involving something akin to the ending of The Wicker Man, with Kenner finally stumbling upon a ritual or cult meeting, rather than just having nightmares about being forced into one of their ceremonies. But no, Regression ends in the most unsatisfying way, which left me thinking “REALLY? That’s how you are going to end it?” For all the great tension the film had built up over the past hour and a half, the ending demolishes any way that the film could have ended with an impact. Sadly all we get is a small amount of text at the end to try and defend the reasons why Regression ended like it did.
In conclusion, Regression has some really good scares and creepy imagery, but all that promise just gets thrown out the window when the ending pops out of nowhere with a completely different mindset from the rest of the film.
Score: 5/10 Had the potential, but not the power to see it through.