Hypnotic is streaming now via Netflix.
Feeling stuck both personally and professionally, Jenn (Kate Siegel), a young woman reeling from a series of traumatic events, enlists a renowned hypnotherapist, Dr. Meade (Jason O’Mara), to help on her road to recovery. After a handful of intense sessions, terrifying events, and mysterious blackouts, Jenn soon finds herself caught in a dangerous mind game. With the help of Detective Wade Rollins (Dulé Hill), Jen looks to put the pieces together before it’s too late and there are deadly consequences.
“An idea planted in the mind will blossom into a whole new reality.”
Co-directors Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote return to Netflix for their sophomore feature Hypnotic, following their critically panned 2018 debut The Open House. The film follows Jenn (Kate Siegel) as she begins to undergo hypnotherapy sessions with Dr. Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara) in an attempt to deal with her past trauma and present anxieties.
Siegel is a modern veteran in the horror-psychological thriller genre — renowned for her work under the direction of her husband Mike Flanagan — and is a perfect casting choice here. As ever, her performance is truly captivating and she does her utmost to pull you into the story and compels you to care for her character. She demonstrates a real likability and authenticity, with moments of both strength and vulnerability. Meanwhile, O’Mara portrays Dr. Meade with consummate ease, bringing an initially charming facade that quickly slips away into a more sleazy, sinister and ominous personality.
The screenplay and overall story by Richard D’Ovidio is somewhat difficult to judge. There is a fine line when it comes to thrillers between writing with good setup and payoff, and writing with simply predictable plot beats. Likewise, there stands a balance between sowing the seeds of a mystery in a way that is clever and obfuscated, versus making clues too pointed and obvious. Hypnotic straddles that line dangerously closely, bordering on predictability. But, at the very least, none of the narrative twists and turns feel like they come completely out of nowhere or are unjustified in a way that they are included for sheer shock value.
As a thriller rather than a mystery film, it remains unclear exactly how much of the narrative is supposed to be deconstructed by the viewer ahead of certain reveals. Perhaps the viewer being given the pieces to work out events ahead of time was an intentional creative decision as a means of enhancing the growing sense of dread and anticipation, enabling them to be concerned about events to come, although such a thesis remains unclear.
Beyond the basic surface level viewing of the film as purely a source of entertainment, another possible avenue for analysis is that of a feminist subtext with regards to misogyny, toxic masculiity and the incessant abuse of men towards women. At one point, Dr. Meade proposes his worldview that “being a victim is a choice, and we can let our hardships define us, consume us, or we can accept the extraordinary abilities that we have in this life to create the outcome we choose for ourselves.” Such a viewpoint, when taken as a comment on the hardships of women at the hands of men, could only be explicated from the male perspective and is inherently problematic.
Indeed, the film takes a more literal, metaphysical approach to the control and ownership of women by men, whilst opting to present and maintain this from a female perspective. However, it is again unclear to what degree such a narrative angle was intended by the directing duo. Nonetheless, having a male and a female director certainly enables a more tactful yet still sincere account of such vile sentiments.
The score, courtesy of Nathan Matthew Davidi, is exhilarating and evokes a real sense of tension. It is utilised perfectly throughout, especially since it always seems to be in tandem with the punchy editing by Brian Ufberg.
The cinematography from John S. Bartley is intoxicating, lending a sensitive but nonetheless voyeuristic and uncomfortable sensibility to proceedings. As Jenn’s mental state becomes increasingly fragile, and memories, dreams and reality begin to intertwine, this is well reflected in the film’s visuals, from upside down and rotating camerawork to Dutch angles and shallow depth of field shots with a dreamlike quality. The production design by Roger Fires, particularly the therapy room set, aids the established sinister and claustrophobic mood.
For the most part, the film has you firmly under its spell, fittingly hypnotised and captivated from the onset, although as the narrative progresses, its hold over you begins to weaken slightly. Regardless, Hypnotic makes for a relatively thrilling film with a compact runtime, some strong cinematic aspects and an interesting premise, firmly anchored by yet another top-notch performance in the genre from Kate Siegel.