Film review of the psychological thriller about a policeman (Ethan Hawke) investigating why a father has no recollection of sexually abusing his daughter (Emma Watson), despite admitting to the crime.
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Detective Hawke is brought in on an unusual case in which a man (Bostick) has been accused by his young daughter (Watson) of raping her since their mother died the previous year. She also alleges satanic ritual abuse by him and members of their community. Hawke and psychiatrist Thewlis attempt to uncover the horror in this seemingly quiet Minnesota community.
Review, by Jason Day
Writer-director Amenábar is perhaps most famous for his Nicole Kidman starring supernatural thriller The Others (2001), notable for Kidman’s worrying, ‘gazelle in the headlights’ expressions, unctuous, over-loaded spook atmospherics and sterling support acting from the likes of Fionnula Flanagan and Christopher Eccleston.
It also borrowed heavily from similar films such as The Innocents (1961), with Deborah Kerr as the governess going gaga looking after two wilful charges.
Regression continues in that so-obvious-it-screams-at-you characters and plotting tactic, stealing in no small measure from movies like The Silence Of the Lambs (1991). As Hawke rummages around Watson’s poor, grubby rural home, uncovering the ballerina music box, we are reminded of FBI agent Jodie Foster uncovering similar, familial abuse in the house of Frederica Bimmel.
The clunky plot device of hypnotherapy (thankfully an explanatory title at the the end of the film informs us how regression is no longer used in police investigations) rings a hollow tune throughout. It may have been a cute Freudian technique in Hollywood classics such as Spellbound (1945), but here seems like a tacked on shortcut to get at the inner workings of a supposedly psychotic mind, as if Hawke’s seasoned cop wants to off-load the hard work to a relative newcomer to his investigative circle (Thewlis).
It also smacks of lazy scriptwriting, especially considering the many plot holes that we traverse along the way. Why does Hawke so readily (uncomfortably) believe the fevered unconscious reminiscences of a man who implicates a close working colleague of his in a heinous crime? We lurch too quickly from this initial point and the writer is left unravelling the nonsense he spins.
Red herring leads leads to ‘Macguffin’ as Amenábar leads himself up the garden path to nowhere. Thankfully, the wiser patrons in the audience will leave enough disbelieve dangling beside them to not be taken in by such contrived, hammy storytelling.
The dialogue has that wonderfully obvious, unsubtle Hollywood twang to it. “I get this feeling about this case…it’s part of something bigger” Hawkes informs us and, later, “We’ll find the truth!”
It smells false from the beginning…and it doesn’t help that the lynchpin in convincing us a city of humans can commit the most atrocious acts is that ‘noted’ fulcrum of dramatic excellence – Emma Watson.
At times appearing dangerously on the verge of expressing emotion for the first time, she has by now nailed that vaguely Californian accent beloved of British actresses who spend too much time falling out of too many L.A. nightclubs, her elfin-gorgeous features arousing, but not masking an irritatingly flat performance.
On the flu-side of the acting coin, Hawke tries too hard as the veteran cop (at what, 45?) but it’s amusing to see Thewlis performing his ‘American’ professional on his own terms, with no attempt to eradicate his recognisable Blackpool tones. Best still is his portable metronome – mobile hypnotherapy in a satchel! What more can the public desire from modern psychoanalytical methods?!
Amenabar is a man who can ladle on a commendably creepy look to a film (and there is a genuinely unnerving feel throughout) and the stark, charcoal grey skies match the uniforms and interiors of the police department, church and people’s homes, neatly dovetailing the interior and exterior of these people’s torpid existence and their institutions.
See the official trailer on Youtube.
Cast & credits
Director: Alejandro Amenábar. Mod Producciones/First Generation Films et al
Producers: Alejandro Amenábar, Fernando Bovaira, Christina Piovesan.
Writer: Alejandro Amenábar.
Camera: Daniel Aranyó.
Music: Roque Baños.
Sets: Carol Spier.
Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke, David Thewlis, Devon Bostick, Aaron Ashmore, Dale Dickey, Kristian Bruun, Lothaire Bluteau, Adam Butcher, Aaron Abrams, David Dencik.