This is a public service announcement: Regression is NOT a horror film. I repeat, Regression is not a horror film. Now on with the review.
Regression stars Ethan Hawke as a detective investigating a rape claim by Emma Watson’s character. With the help of regressive hypnosis from David Thewlis’ psychoanalyst they realize there may be some bigger evil at play: a satanic cult.
Because of the trailer and marketing, and because Regression is being billed as a horror/thriller film worldwide, I spent three quarters of the film marvelling at its tonal issues before realizing that this was what the whole film was like.
Regression could be an okay crime thriller that’s a dramatized case study of the satanic panic of the ‘90s if it actually recognized that that is what it is.
I would love to blame the marketing team, but it is clear that they are not the only ones at fault in this blatant case of trying to dupe horror audiences into paying for tickets.
Looking at it with the expectation of horror, you’d think the shock twist would be a dramatic reveal at the end, spurring the climax. Instead Regression starts out with a clear The Crucible-like vibe, and if you were caught off guard by the twist, you weren’t paying attention. Anyone with the most basic knowledge of the satanic panic already knows that it was all unprovable, so the opening title card saying that it is based on true stories of that time already tells you the result.
Regression feels like an hour-long TV special true crime dramatization, or an episode of a procedural cop show that’s not quite gritty. There are a few creepy visuals and some mediocre jump scares, but no real horror. There aren’t any moments where you are actually scared for any of the characters.
The acting is fine all around, but with the cheesy dialogue and glaring tone/genre issues, it’s hard to appreciate.
The worst offenders in the break in tone are the out of place buddy cop moments between Ethan Hawke’s detective and David Thewlis’ psychoanalyst. One of the secondary character cops is also used as a punchline every time he comes on screen, which also doesn’t fit the tone at all. Regression is a very confused movie.