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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Regression movie review: no thanks for the memories

Regression red light

Amenábar aims for a noirish X-Files vibe, but preposterousness rules this inert trudge that does absolutely no justice to a terrible real-life phenomenon.
I’m “biast” (pro): like the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Alejandro Amenábar (Agora) would like you to believe that Regression is based on a true story, probably in the hopes that that impression elevates its solemn silliness somewhere into the realm of the plausible. It does not… and anyway, there’s nothing true here beyond the most general of circumstances. Yes, in the 1980s and 1990s, mass hysteria about Satanic cults holding black masses in which babies were murdered, children were sexually abused, and adults were tortured did indeed sweep the U.S. and much of the English-speaking world. But the particular details of this story are wholly invented, and where Amenábar — who wrote the script and directs — takes them does absolutely no justice to the phenomenon, and actually ends up in a place that is repulsive and arguably even dangerous in a way that has implications beyond the Satanic panic. In Minnesota in 1990, a cop, Kenner (Ethan Hawke: Ten Thousand Saints), begins investgating the case of a 17-year-old girl (Emma Watson: Noah) who is accusing her father (David Dencik: Serena) of molesting her; Kenner eventually unravels what looks to be a vast conspiracy in the small town that includes murder and child pornography. Amenábar might be aiming for a noirish X-Files vibe — all is gray, rainy, and grim here — but preposterousness rules: it’s appallingly unlikely, say, that the shrink (David Thewlis: Legend) Kenner brings in to help interview victims and suspects doesn’t realize how much he is leading them toward the answers he wants. Vulnerable, suggestible people in real similar cases did indeed “remember” things that never happened, but if those false memories were implanted in so blatant a way as we see here, Amenábar has missed a much bigger story. We might say that the director himself has regressed, to the genre trappings of his most successful project, 2001’s The Others, but unlike that wonderfully chilling and moving film, this one is an inert, unscary trudge toward forgettable inconsequence.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Regression for its representation of girls and women.


red light 1.5 stars

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Regression (2015)
US/Can release: Feb 05 2016
UK/Ire release: Oct 09 2015

MPAA: rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, and for language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, threat, sex, references to sexual abuse)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    There’s potentially a great film to be made about the completely imaginary Satanic cults and the huge amount of damage done by “good guys” trying to rectify damage that had never taken place, but it wouldn’t look much like a conventional horror film.

  • Exactly. There is no evidence of anything ever actually happening. It was all made up. Pretty crazy. Could make for an interesting movie in a weird way, like you said.

  • See the documentaries about the West Memphis Three, such as West of Memphis.

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