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Review: Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke are misused in questionable hypnosis tale ‘Regression’

Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke headline the psychological thriller.
(Jan Thijs / Radius-TWC)

Well-intended seriousness dismantles “Regression,” a not-exactly-horror horror movie that’s also a mystery with no mystery. Inspired by the satanic ritual abuse/recovered-memory panic that once swept the nation and set in a sleepy Minnesota burg in 1990, it stars Ethan Hawke as Bruce Kenner, a forthright detective exploring a curious molestation case.

Widowed father John Gray (David Dencik) admits to the allegations by his stricken teenage daughter Angela (Emma Watson) but claims not to remember it. When a psychoanalytics professor (David Thewlis) joins Bruce, talking up the powers of regressive hypnosis and unlocked memories, further interviews with the fractured clan — including Angela’s runaway brother (Devon Bostick) and hard-bitten grandmother (Dale Dickey) — uncover the possibility of something much worse: a devil-worshipping cabal of hooded townsfolk who slaughter innocents in the family barn. Piecing it together takes its toll on Det. Kenner, who can’t stop listening to tapes of Angela’s increasingly horrific testimony and starts looking differently at everyone around him.

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Anybody familiar with the investigative pitfalls and therapy controversies that surrounded real-life incidents like these that wrecked communities across the country in the 1980s will be well tuned to where writer-director Alejandro Amenábar is going with this. (The great journalist Lawrence Wright’s chilling 1994 book “Remembering Satan” memorably detailed one such case similar enough in outline to “Regression” that it surely was on Amenábar’s radar.)

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The problem is that unlike the filmmaker’s more enjoyably enigmatic yet focused thrillers that played with perception — “Open Your Eyes” and “The Others” — he’s completely off his game here. Amenábar wants to have it both ways: sensitively, realistically psychological about demarcating the real and not real but also date-night scary. He winds up with neither, instead serving up a bloodless collection of talking head close-ups and a tension-free whaa?-dunit with no narrative momentum or mood. The impressive cast is also sorely misused, with performances ranging from bland to melodramatic, sometimes within the same actor.

It all leaves “Regression,” which wasn’t screened in advance for critics, destined for the repressed-memory bin.

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‘Regression’

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Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

MPAA rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content and language

Playing: In general release

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