There are some decent actors out there that have an affinity for good scifi and horror. Ethan Hawke is one such actor. From Daybreakers to Sinister and The Purge, Hawke doesn't shy away from the absurd and the horrific. In Regression, Hawke plays a detective attempting to solve a sexual assault case that involves a satanic cult. His investigation leads to a psychoanalyst who uses a controversial method of "hypnosis" called regression to have suspects and victims alike dig into their seemingly enigmatic pasts.
The plot, based on a true story, has a Fargo-like quaintness to it, of course without the sardonic and dryly delivered humor. The dryness and quaint atmosphere leaks into the tension at times, causing issues with pacing and the all-too-common volume peaks and valleys that have you holding the remote in your hand throughout the entire runtime. Hawke's character has this unusual blend of Mulder and Scully into one, initially struggling with the disbelief of the investigation's leads, until eventually coming to "am I crazy or is everyone else?" - type progression.
The film's story feels natural in its delivery, but Emma Watson's role feels rushed and sparse at times, especially considering her significance to the case [and plot]. The focus is definitely on Hawke's struggles with belief and approach to the investigation's paranormal undertones, but it leaves the film with awkward direction in all moments in which Hawke isn't running the show.
Of course, it's hard to dive into my main issue with the film without some major spoilers, so...
I find there is no twist more disappointing than the one that reveals there is no monster. Even when it is cleverly presented, it leaves you feeling cheated, or at the very least, stripped of your childlike, morbid wonder. Hide and Seek is a perfect example of this. Sure, we get a mystery resolution that feels unexpected (if you weren't paying attention), but it just leaves you more disappointed than satisfied. That's how Regression goes.
Sometimes "based on a true story" tales are as boring as real life. In the case of this true story, our detective discovers that the satanic cult may very well be fake, or at least severely overstated and exaggerated in grandeur by our "victim". To top it off, the regression hypnosis method ended up being a catalyst for a mass hysteria-like response in the community, particularly the suspects and victims analyzed under its spell. It regressed (pun intended) from leading witnesses to seeing what they wanted to see, to the eventual rumor mill spreading the nightmarish imaginations into every hypnotic suggestion.
The film's concluding text-heavy epilogue explains that the satanic cult was basically made up and that regression has been proven, essentially, to be a bunch of hogwash. Yay.
The generally slow pace is expected with the source material and the tropes that come along with the mystery thriller genre. But I couldn't help but be disappointed with the outcome of the film. In the end it felt more suited for an indie drama exploring the side effects of the regression method, rather than using it as a catalyst for a mystery that ends up wasting not only our protagonist detective's time, but our own.