Ethan Hawke stars in a predictable chiller from the once-great Alejandro Amenábar
Writer-director Alejandro Amenábar’s psychological mystery thriller – ‘inspired’ by real events – is a stew of hypnotherapy, satanism, sexual abuse (mostly suggested rather than depicted, thank you) and the kind of mass hysteria that triggered the 17th century witch trials. It’s set in 1990, when lurid satanic ritual stories had police forces on both sides of the Atlantic pursuing phantoms and prosecuting heavy metal fans as tabloids whipped up fear and frenzy.
Ethan Hawke plays small-town Minnesota detective Bruce Kenner who gets carried away when local teenager Angela Gray (Emma Watson) and her minister Reverend Murray (Lothaire Bluteau) accuse her father John (David Dencik) of unspeakable acts. Dad rather surprisingly admits guilt, while claiming to remember nothing. Psychologist Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) is summoned and advocates controversial regression sessions to recover suppressed memories. Thus the police department, tabloid TV and community are swept up in a rapidly widening hunt for rapacious, baby-eating devil-worshippers.
The premise is sound enough, as are the performances. Hawke has become expert at heavy sweating and intensity as he cracks up, Watson is appropriately enigmatic, while the supporting cast including Thewlis, Bluteau, Dencik and Dale Dickey as the proverbial Crazy Cat Lady are high calibre for a creepfest.
But there’s no attempt to explain why this satanic scare phenomenon occurred in so many places, and the exploration of whether regression therapy reveals buried memories or implants false ones is cheapened by a succession of dumb clues as to what is – disappointingly as it turns out – really going on. So much for the detective’s spontaneous ‘realisation’, or the plot ‘revelation’ that utterly fails to surprise.
It is not, perhaps, the happiest choice of title for Amenábar. This is only his sixth feature in nearly 20 years, and even fans of his last effort, the ambitious, high-minded failure Agora, have to admit the artistic and commercial returns have dwindled since his Oscar-winning The Sea Inside and electrifying ghost story The Others. It’s depressing that he’s come to this: hinting at more twists and chills than the film ever even begins to deliver.
General release from Fri 9 Oct.