Review: Hypnotic

This is definitely a movie that thinks its smarter than it actually is.

Danny Rourke, a cop whose daughter mysteriously vanished without a trace, finds clues to her whereabouts when a bizarre bank heist occurs. But as the strangeness unfolds, his life is turned upside down.

Directed and co-written by Robert Rodriguez (a man with a colourful filmography from Spy Kids to Machete Kills) Hypnotic is a very poor man’s version of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Starring Ben Affleck in the lead roll, Alice Braga, and William Fichtner.

Indeed, the comparison with Inception is going to be the go-to criticism of this new film. Which isn’t exactly fair… Inception was thirteen years ago (feeling old?) and was monumentally ground-breaking at the time. Perhaps, in a parallel dimension, Hypnotic was the ground-breaking film.

Well, that might still be giving it too much credit.

If you think that director Rodriguez doesn’t strike you as a cerebral man (you know, a man who had a woman plugging an assault rifle onto her amputated leg stump and be able to fire it) you might have cause for concern that he would direct something mind-bending, something subtle, something riddled with clues all leading to dramatic and dynamic twists that make you question the very meaning of reality. Yes, you might. You should.
Because the film really stumbles out of the gate and recovers far too late. What is an interesting premise: people who can manipulate your mind by the slightest hypnotic suggestion, so much that they can make you do things or see things to their will. In fact, it is such an interesting premise that The X-Files did two episodes on the theory. The first one, Pusher, aired in January 1997 (now I feel old) and was written by Breaking Bad‘s own Vince Gilligan. It was a tense, unnerving episode, and it was popular enough to be given a sequel episode.

Our two protagonists debate what their totems will be.

Why are we talking about The X-Files? Probably because Hypnotic is one of those films you cannot talk about without spoiling most of it. Indeed, the film’s premise up-ends reality, and to go in-depth would be to give away any credibility it has. So we won’t do that.

The issue mainly lies in the film’s pacing, and its front-loaded signs that not everything is as it seems. The title, the trailer, all give it away; and going in you are immediately looking for clues long before Affleck’s character is. This makes the film ripe for nit-picking. For example, someone is shot in the head and dies, do you go up to them and try to get them to talk? No. No, you really don’t. Or the ridiculous “hacking” software on display. Straight out of the 90s and played straight-facedly.
Then we have William Fichtner, aka, Lazy Casting Director’s Choice for Main Antagonist. Who floats around nearly untouchable, seemingly able to fold reality (with some very bad CGI rendering of that really cool bit of Inception… or Doctor Strange) alongside some shocking plot conveniences and edits.

Eventually, we get the twist, and the film opens up and immediately becomes more interesting. But it had spent so much time being coy with us, that anyone still invested will have to accept a meagre fifteen minutes or so?

So, is there anything really worthwhile? It is very easy to shutdown and nit-pick. Rodriguez was not the man for this movie. But… it is an original movie. It isn’t bad, it is just very predictable. Alice Braga makes a good performance here, delivering the few good throw-away lines the film has. The opening bank heist (given away by the trailer) and the final scenes, do have merit, but are completely bogged down by the tedium of the middle.

It feels like it should have been given more time, and more artistry to create. Very much requires the technical, detail-analysing mind of Nolan to make it compelling. Half good, but half bad.

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