REVIEW: Hypnotic


Some movies seem purposefully designed for critics to have fun with, if not necessarily cinema audiences. Robert Rodriguez’s Hypnotic is just such a movie.

From its hopelessly dated, sub 00s-Nolan sci-fi thriller premise to its almost comically one-note lead performance – Affleck’s expressions range from a frown to a grimace to a scowl – to the oh-so generic title, it’s an inducement to snarky headlines, like “Hypnotic put me to sleep.”

We open with our protagonist, Texas police officer Danny Rourke (Affleck), in therapy; the tap, tap, tap of his therapist’s pen echoing through his subconscious. Things to do not get more subtle or original from here.

Turns out that Rourke’s daughter Minnie vanished years before and the man convicted of her kidnapping claims to have no memory of the incident. Cue a hazy, idyllic flashback complete  with spinning paper windmills and portentous dialogue like, “This is not a braid, it’s a maze only your mother can solve.”

Meanwhile, Rourke and his partner, Nicks (J. D. Pardo in a role that doesn’t even merit a first name) have been tipped off to an imminent bank robbery; one in which the perpetrator, Lev Dellrayne (William Fitchner, given less to work with here than his one scene in The Dark Knight)1 seems to make mindless accomplices of anyone in the vicinity.

An unfortunate pedestrian upon being told it’s hot promptly strips off and wanders into traffic. Why her inhibitions have been so lowered or else why she isn’t panicked by the “furnace”-like conditions is never explained. The car wreck that results, however, is arguably the highlight of the movie: a deeply, seemingly unintentionally, comic burst of chaos; resulting in a bus crash, a man flung through a car windshield, and an exploded fire hydrant spraying water.

Out of this chaos comes a lead, both to the heist and perhaps the disappearance of Rourke’s daughter – Diana (Alice Braga playing the closest thing the movie has to a human being), a small-town psychic, inevitable love interest, and source of some of Hypnotic’s baldest exposition; for example, “Are you familiar with the concept of psychic constructs?”

Apparently, Dellrayne and his fellow hypnotics can compel people to behave in certain, specific ways by altering their perception of reality. Exactly how this works is, again, unclear. Other aspects are similarly fuzzy. For instance, the image of dominos, shown occasionally within the movie and featured prominently on the poster, seem to be building up to become a visual motif; to the extent, you may wonder if “Domino” was a working title before Tony Scott and Brian DePalma nabbed it retrospectively.

Though reportedly a passion project for Rodriguez, who first wrote the script back in 2002, at which point it would at least have been ahead of the curve, this feels like director-for-hire work. Robert Rodriguez and Pablo Berron’s cinematography substitutes neon for personality – daytime locations simply look washed-out – and Rebel Rodriguez’s score is reliably if uninspiredly Zimmer-like.

Given Rodriguez’s impeccable B-movie credentials, you’d expect Hypnotic might at least be entertainingly schlocky, but it’s simply not smart, or stylish, or even silly enough to be charming. A movie that includes the question “He erased his own mind?” should not be this dour. While presumably aiming for mind-bending, Hypnotic is at best mildly diverting; running closer to the sort of thing that used to pad out Nic Cage’s resume, or perhaps the sort of thing that James McAvoy was up to briefly back in 2013.

It’s intriguing to think what another filmmaker might have make of this, like M. Night Shyamalan, might have done with the concept, but without the engaging twists and turns to overcome its shortcomings – indeed, its plot could reasonably have been circumvented with a considered phone call – Hypnotic‘s spell never takes hold.

  1. SPOILER: And has any name ever more clearly been an anagram? Tom Marvolo Riddle, eat your fucking heart out.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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