Minnesota, 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the case of young Angela (Emma Watson), who accuses her father, John Gray (David Dencik), of an unspeakable crime. When John unexpectedly and without recollection admits guilt, renowned psychologist Dr. Raines (David Thewlis) is brought in to help him relive his memories and what they discover unmasks a horrifying nationwide mystery.
'Regression' starts with an encouraging premise, and a promise that the proceedings are based on true events. The events in question involve hysteria forming around the perceived emergence of devil worshippers in a sleepy rural Minnesotan town in 1990.
Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) has been sent to investigate the alleged sexual assault of one Angela Gray (Emma Watson). Kenner is a skeptic, and there's some interesting faith versus science interplay brewing, but it's never given more than a cursory once over.
Angela is unable or unwilling to remember the assault. Her father John (David Dencik) readily admits to it, but also doesn't remember doing it. Gray is put under regression hypnosis by Dr. Thewlis (Kenneth Raines) in order to recover the lost memories in hopes of solving the case.
The case ends up spiraling out of control. It appears that Angela has been branded with an upside-down crucifix. A mark of satanic rituals. The hysteria begins to grip the city once the idea of Satanists spreads like wildfire.
Director Alejandro Amenábar, who directed 'The Others,' provides a wonderfully dark, moody feel to this seemingly straight-to-Blu-ray movie (a very small US theatrical opening is all it received). From the outset it's easy to tell that the quality just isn't there. Amenábar does an admirable job trying to infuse some creepiness by injecting his unique visual style. It works, to some degree. At times it feels like he captures some unseen malevolent force that weighs on the film, in a good way. A constant unease that provides the necessary drama.
The film works on a few levels, and doesn't on others. Hawkes and Watson are capable actors and do as much as they can with the material they're provided. Sadly, the screenplay never ventures too deep. Amenábar doesn't stoop to jump scares, but he also doesn't spend time dissecting the true causes of mass hysteria. He conjures up some wickedly nasty dream sequences that really set the mood, but in the end they don't really contribute much to the stories or characters. Though those dream sequences do a good job at setting up that unrelenting unease felt throughout the movie.
One unique filmmaking technique that I enjoyed was Amenábar's exceptional use of surround sound. There are numerous first-person point of view shots – mostly during dreams – where dialogue is sent into the rear speakers creating a discombobulating, yet captivating mood. If there's one thing to learn from 'Regression' it's that Amenábar understands that film doesn't need to be tied down to its usual conventions.
While I already briefly touched on the movie's science versus religion argument, I neglected to elaborate. Detective Kenner is a skeptic, but he's open to the possibility of devils, possession, and so on. The deeper he gets into the case the more wrapped up in these Satanic fantasies he becomes. On the other hand Dr. Thewlis is there to provide a scientific constant. This relationship has the opportunity to dive deep into the schism between science and religion and fails. There's a hasty conversation about it and that's it. There's so much more to be explored that the screenplay leaves simply sitting there.
It's clear that even when Amenábar is dealing with lower-grade material like this, he knows how to make movies. There's a distinct visual style here that makes the movie watchable, and a palpable dread that makes it attention-grabbing. Unfortunately, it ultimately fails to harness its full psychological horror potential.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 25GB Blu-ray, which comes in a standard keepcase. It also comes with an UltraViolet Digital Copy.
This 1080p transfer provided by Anchor Bay does what it's supposed to do. It's not overtly impressive by any stretch. It simply presents the visuals in a clean way, without throwing in too many distractions.
Amenábar has bathed the movie in grays and blacks. That doesn't mean that crushing is an issue. It may be in a few scenes, but on the whole the presentation features some well-delineated shadows. The clarity is fine too. Fine detail is adequate during close-ups and even during mid-range shots.
Some banding is evident on fades. It's not aggressive by any means, but it's there. I didn't notice any aliasing or blocking though. Skin tones are lifelike. Black areas are as dark as one might suspect. Workmanlike, it gets the job done without boasting too much.
'Regression' has quite a clever audio mix, so it's too bad that it undermines itself incessantly. This is one of the first mixes I've ever heard that prioritizes the rear channels over the front ones. It's a strange choice that ends up costing this release.
There are many scenes, whether POV shots or dream sequences, where the dialogue is piped through the rear channels. This volume has been pumped way up compared to the dialogue coming out of the front. The strange use of the rear channels adds to the unnerving feeling of the movie, but the fact that they couldn't balance the front-centric dialogue with the same type of clarity is troublesome. So, while the very active rear channels offer a surprisingly immersive experience, the front and center channels are so subdued that you'll have to strain to hear what some of the characters are saying.
The LFE is quite strong and has some great opportunities to rumble. However, the same problem applies here. Bass takes over at times, drowning out dialogue that comes from the front speakers. It's a shame really, because 'Regression' has one of the more inventive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes I've ever heard. If they had prioritized the front better, we'd have a real gem of an audio mix.
Ethan Hawke – Bruce's Obsession (HD, 2 min.) – A short look at Hawke's character with the cast and crew chiming in.
Emma Watson – The Complexity of Angela (HD, 2 min.) – A look at Watson's character.
The Cast of 'Regression' (HD, 2 min.) – A brief look at the movie's cast.
The Vision of 'Regression' (HD, 2 min.) – A short look at the technical details of the shoot.
Amenábar directs an admirably creepy thriller that seems to be missing its most crucial parts. That doesn't stop it from being somewhat engrossing as it plays with filmmaking and sound design techniques to create a distinctly different viewing experience. The video is fine and the audio has its issues. It's worth a look if you're at all interested.