After a teenage girl Angela (Emma Watson) accuses her father of abusing her – a crime he has no memory of committing – tenacious police detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is slowly pulled into a hidden underground of Satanic cults and ritual sacrifice.
Except he isn’t; not really. Evidence of the activities of Satanism forever lies just beyond Kenner’s grasp, much like the audience’s incentive to care about the development of this ham-fisted mystery though lacklustre ideas and pedestrian writing.
Attempting to validate the story’s premise is the idea of repressed memories, and that baby-sacrificing, devil-worshipping cultists are able to perform this at will on their members to disguise their activities. The regression of the title is the controversial technique used to recover them, and through it the film attempts to tell a story of how the kind of mass hysteria that led to the likes of the Salem witch trials could have occurred in otherwise rational human beings, but to do so would take a film of far greater intelligence and subtlety than this one.
Not only does the script believe it’s far smarter than it actually is, it actually takes time to point out just how clever it believes it’s being, which only serves to further highlight its shortcomings. Clues to later revelations are dropped in with the finesse of a Michael Bay crash zoom, but because nobody explicitly mentions them we are to perceive them as background details to be gradually weaved into a developing plot rather than blatant clues to obvious conclusions that the characters miss due to utter incompetence.
The film is almost saved from complete mediocrity by Emma Watson, who portrays Angela with a sensitivity that transcends the soap opera dialogue and a vulnerability that makes her time on screen the only truly engaging moments of the whole sorry experience. However, one performance does not save an otherwise worthless film, and in contrast Ethan Hawke, despite playing the nominal hero, spends the whole time alternately shouting, growling and seething his way through the story like unhinged ‘90s Gary Oldman villain.
As the film stumbles towards its predictably inevitable conclusion, there is some attempted ambiguity over whether or not the hallucinatory nightmares Kenner is suffering are surfacing memories of what has been genuinely occurring, but rather than deciding for yourself the truth of what may or may not be happening, you simply don’t care and just want it to end.
REGRESSION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ALEJANDRO AMENABAR / STARRING: ETHAN HAWKE, EMMA WATSON, DAVID THEWLIS, LOTHAIRE BLUTEAU, DAVID DENCIK, DALE DICKEY, AARON ASHMORE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expecting Rating: 6 out of 10