I find the concept of Satanism fascinating, not because I’m really that interested in Satan, but I like seeing the rift between what the mainstream media thinks Satanism is and what it actually is. Of course, sensationalism sells and to sell a religion that supposedly goes against the grain of Christianity, of course evil is going to pull through. In the ’80s and early ’90s, the concept of “Satanic Ritual Abuse,” a.k.a. SRA, pervaded American televisions, sending parents into a panic about whether their children were being used for satanic rituals at their schools and daycares. Because of this, many false claims were drafted and “proven” against many different care providers, falsely sending them to jail for sometimes more than 20 years (the most recent release being of Fran and Dan Keller, who were convicted in 1992 and released 21 years later in 2013 on a false charge).
Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar takes on the hysteria that was SRA in “Regression,” a film that seeks to understand the phenomenon through the personal effects of a single case revolving around a young girl. Amenábar, known primarily for his critically-acclaimed 2001 thriller “The Others,” returns to the genre with “Regression,” seeking to make a comeback after taking veering away from his most successful genre.
While Amenábar does quite a good job with setting the stage, I couldn’t help but feel that “Regression” is a film in the wrong genre; spinning the wrong tone.
Of course, SRA has been completely debunked, so even as a horror fan, I can’t say I was completely on board with the sensationalizing of this myth, even if it is only to prove a point. Even then, the scenes of horror weren’t all that effective in my opinion, playing off typical genre clichés rather than any subtle chills that “The Others” did so well.
Set in ’90s Minnesota, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is called to investigate claims of sexual abuse made by a 17 year-old girl, Angela Gray (Emma Watson), against her father, John (David Dencik). As the investigation drags on, Angela, John and the whole town involved begin to recover repressed memories that might turn this case to something much more dark and sinister.
Hawke and Watson are fantastic as always, with Watson stealing each scene she’s in. The trailer makes it seem as if her American accent is terrible, but it seems as if they only took the worst dialogue they could’ve pulled to make first impressions seem bad. In fact, Watson displayed a wonderful range in the film, being the first of the trio (Watson, Daniel Radcliffe or Rupert Grint) to truly shed her “Harry Potter” image and become something much more adult. Hawke, a consistently good actor, does great work here too, even amongst some of the clunky dialogue the film has, Hawke keeps his cool and handles the material with ease.
Amenábar’s direction is also very solid, with attractive cinematography and great production design, it would be heard for Amenábar to mess that up. He knows exactly what he wants from his actors and get that in a tense, taut manner. I found many of the dialogue and interrogation scenes in the film to be much more jarring than that of the horror scenes, proving that Amenábar works much better with more subtle work than that of straightforward horror sequences.
Had the film acknowledged the debunking of SRA before the end credits, I think I could’ve appreciated it a bit more, but the film seems to take a popular point of view when it comes to portraying Satanism, one that doesn’t seem to help the case against SRA and the following hysteria, but tries to fix itself late in the game to assure us otherwise. With such a tense build up to something good, I had hoped it would’ve been something a little less sensationalized.
I didn’t hate “Regression” at all, in fact, I almost liked it; emphasis on “almost.” There was just a little too much sensationalist horror going on when there should have been more taut investigation against the fascinating phenomenon that was SRA. That was the kicker that held almost everything back for me, because everything else was as it should’ve been. Amenábar’s direction was attractive and tense (in most scenes), while Hawke and Watson delivered great performances, with Watson stealing the show and to simply put an emphasis on SRA, in a time where we still seem to not discuss it, was daring enough. Maybe, when we decide to take the leap next time to make another film about this, we can do it without turning it into fictionalized horror, then we’ll be in business.