Review | Hypnotic (2023)
While Hypnotic won’t be in contention for anything come awards season, Robert Rodriguez’s long-gestating and imaginative thriller is well worth watching.
Movies like Robert Rodriguez‘s Hypnotic used to be all the rage back in the 80s. The genre of intriguing thrillers that tantalized for 90 minutes before fizzling out and popping up in the video store was prevalent back then. And although many of them faded away until achieving cult classic status, the majority ended up in the bargain bin where they belong. But which end of the spectrum does Hypnotic find itself?
The movie boasts the acting talents of Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, and William Fichtner and the directorial and writing vision of the great Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) with the latter’s son composing the score. So, on paper, this low-budget thriller should stick the landing and offer some thought-provoking drama for us to chew on. Or so you’d think. Instead, what we are rewarded with is a 90-minute thrill ride that fights to gain momentum and dazzle us with a compelling story, only to fail at the last hurdle with a lackluster performance from Ben Affleck and a plot as predictable as time. Not that this is a bad quality. The brisk pace and ambitious material are far from mediocre. But when stacked against juggernauts like Inception and TENET, Hypnotic is desperately punching above its weight.
For the most part, the plot is both imaginative and compelling. Ben Affleck plays a tormented police detective named Danny Rourke, a good cop baffled by a violent bank robbery that left half a dozen dead. However, the mystery deepens when the robber, William Fichtner’s Dellrayne breaks into the bank only to acquire the contents of a safe deposit box. As the contents are revealed, the plot thickens with the appearance of a Polaroid featuring Rourke’s missing daughter. Oddly, Dellrayne seems to have the power to hypnotize his victims at will creating havoc with his psychic ability. And his sudden disappearance from the crime scene leaves Rourke baffled.
What follows is an intriguing one-hour detective story that deepens with every revelation. Rourke’s investigation leads him to small-time hypnotist Diana (Alice Braga), who crossed paths with Dellrayne before, and she regales him with stories of corrupt government agencies and rogue psychic supermen harboring delusions of ruling the world.
With every scene, Rodriguez’s admiration for Christopher Nolan’s Inception comes to the fore, with an almost dream-like quality where the limits of reality are tested. Buildings fold, landscapes change, and people become mindless servants as the true potential of hypnotic suggestions comes to bear. Which in itself is a harrowing experience. But these augments to reality have been seen before, in movies far better executed and grander in scale. Don’t get me wrong, the special effects are serviceable and provide the necessary eye candy, but when all is said and done, it doesn’t feel like enough.
Surprisingly, most of this is intentional, a ruse from Rodriguez to add multiple layers to the mystery. And the majority of what unfolds is deliberate misdirection. But many of the plot twists are poorly executed, and fans of the genre will see them coming from a mile away. It is a bold choice from Rodriguez, and the swift running time barely allows the viewer time to dwell on the flaws, but those scrutinizing the movie as a whole will formulate strong opinions about the artistic style.
Sadly, the clunky dialogue and often wooden acting of Affleck compound the issue further. Far from his Batman glory days, or his preferred dramatic fare, Affleck plays the role like he owes the director a favor. Aimlessly wandering from one scene to the next hoping to whisk us away on the investigation. But at times, he seems disinterested and emotionless, even when a close friend meets his demise in the cruelest of fashions. It’s a bizarre blend, and the clash of styles is jarring.
Moreover, much of the film’s dialogue comes off as cheesy and out of place. But much in the same way as the plot, much of this is misdirection from the director. So these failings can be forgiven, even though much of it will have you rolling your eyes in contempt for the first hour.
Thankfully, what we lack in Affleck we make for with Alice Braga and the scene-stealing William Fichtner. The latter of which is reveling in his element as the bad guy. Similar in style to his role in The Dark Knight, Fichtner truly comes to the fore with these roles, and his depravity is a joy to behold. The conviction he has here is infectious, and the result is an intellectual villain that is relishing being two steps ahead of the competition. Rodriguez is an innovative director, and he uses Fichtner’s brilliance to add some genuine menace to proceedings.
Braga, on the other hand, appears to be swept along by the story, only to dazzle with genuinely poignant moments that add weight to the story. Her character Diana has a shady past, and Braga spins a well-played web of emotional drama and character development that is tantalizing to unravel. After working together on Predators, Rodriguez knows just how to draw out a performance from Braga. And she rises to meet the challenge with a well-rounded performance.
For the most part, Rebel Rodriguez’s drama-laden score is a breath of fresh air. Intense and bombastic one minute, and poignant and emotional the next. It’s a hard balance to pull off but the director’s son has got it where it counts and the result is a score that fits the bill perfectly. It shouldn’t come as any real surprise, especially with his close association with the director. But scoring a movie of this size comes with its share of pressures. But Rebel rises to the challenge and sticks the landing with a well-orchestrated soundtrack that propels the story along. And I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.
While Hypnotic won’t be in contention for anything come awards season, Robert Rodriguez’s long-gestating pet project is well worth watching. The plot is compelling and the mystery is enjoyable to watch. And under the right circumstances could have been on par with Nolan’s masterwork. The story is bold, ambitious, and imaginative but the project overall sadly lacks the gravitas to reach the bar set by Inception and Tenet. But what Hypnotic does bring to the table is a compelling insight into the jarring possibilities of hypnotic suggestion. And the implications attached to mind control should the human race ever develop the technique.
The skeptical among us will discard this ability as nonsensical. But when factoring in the ramifications of this level of manipulation, the potential is truly terrifying. And Rodriguez taps into that fear and presents it for all to see. It may not be his typical all-guns-blazing fare, but Hypnotic will keep us guessing until the very end. For better or worse and in more ways than one.
Hypnotic hypnotizes viewers in UK cinemas tomorrow.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!