by | Oct 5, 2015 | 0 comments

Amenabar Returns to the Big Screen With a Complex Thriller 

It’s really hard for directors to “hold back” from making unnecessary movies. I can find only few examples of directors who only make a film when they absolutely need too. Of course it’s the endless dilemma of whether to make art or make a living; some directors can’t afford to wait for a spectacular idea to pop into their head, most have mouths to feed. The few celebrated directors who make occasional movies are Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Pedro Almodovar, and Alejandro Amenabar. The last with his latest film Regression, which is only his sixth film in 19 years.  

Regression is a thriller that tells of the investigation of a satanic cult in a Minnesota town, back in 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is investigating a case involving the rape of Angela Gray (Emma Watson) by her father (David Dencik). As Bruce begins uncovering clues he suspects that the case might be part of something much bigger. The film is based on true events, dealing with the panic in the 80s and 90s of the seemingly rising satanic cults. In order to penetrate into his suspects and witnesses’ minds, Bruce employs a psychology professor from a nearby university: Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis); who thinks that through hypnotic regression he can make suspects and witnesses remember things they seem to have erased from their memories.

The film plays with the audience’s mind as much as it does with Bruce’s. You are constantly switching sides in terms of seeing the case scientifically or spiritually. Amenabar shows his expert hand by having us on the edge of our seats biting our nails or curling back and covering our eyes; he has the intrigue start out slowly and then he smoothly has it accelerate to a point where you’re shaking with the impossible height it’s reaching. And then the amount of symbolism for keen-eyed filmgoers is incredibly abundant, something that most directors ignore and which is nice to see acknowledged once in a while. The characters are all very layered and always kept mysterious, to the point where we don’t really know who our own narrator, Bruce, really is. And then finally with the ending you can almost feel Amenabar hitting you over the head and laughing at you, it is completely unexpected… yet somewhat anticipated, which again has your brain furiously deciding which of the two it should settle for.  

The acting was really good, but might be too subtle for some people to appreciate. Ethan Hawke gives us a character that’s incredibly reserved, but with and expert hand he lets you see that there’s more to his character than meets the eye. As for Emma Watson, she clearly shows that she has grown out of her Harry Potter character, Hermione Granger. Watson gives us a multi-layered and fragile Angela, to the point that you fear she might not only break psychologically, but physically too if you simply tipped her over. And then finally we have David Thewlis, who gives one of the subtlest performances in the film. He provides the voice of reason and a sort of soft the comic relief for the audience as well, to the point that he becomes an essential character so that the audiences, and Bruce, remain sane.  

This is yet another example of how Spanish cinema, and foreign cinema in general, is growing up. Amenabar became sick of having his films remade in English (Open Your Eyes was remade to great success as Vanilla Sky). With The Others he already chose to film it in English and with an Anglican actor (Nicole Kidman), so with Regression he did the same by filming in the US and Canada and employing English and American actors. But that nevertheless doesn’t stop this from being a Spanish film. The money is from Spain, the crew is from Spain, and of course the mastermind behind it all is from Spain. But do foreigners really have to resort to speaking our own language for us to appreciate their art?  

The film is incredibly intriguing and leaves your mind weary of all the toying it has suffered. Even if the case might seem resolved in the end, the final camera shot has you question which side really held the truth: science or religion?  








What is your favorite demonic movie? Let me know in the comments section.

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