Jenn Thompson (Kate Siegel, “The Haunting of Hill House”) is a mess. She’s physically and emotionally suffering after delivering a stillborn baby, breaking up with her fiancé and losing her job. She needs help — at least that’s what her friend Gina (Lucie Guest, “Ring of Deception”) passive-aggressively suggests when Jenn appears at her house looking extremely worn out. What better way to address these inner struggles than through hypnotherapy?
“Hypnotic” is a horror-thriller following Jenn on her journey toward recovery, only she keeps slipping further and further away from a healthy state of mind. The first act of the film moves pretty slowly, with several scenes devoted to Jenn’s development into the mess that she is. The people around her seem to judge her mental state even though she did just tragically deliver a stillborn baby. Still, Gina’s only offer of support happens after she calls Jenn’s life a “vortex of crap” and forces her into therapy with Dr. Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara, “Son Of Batman”).
But the film eventually picks up. After Jenn consents to hypnotherapy with Dr. Meade, she starts experiencing memory loss. Days later, she suddenly can’t remember chunks of time; one moment, in particular, is when she cooks a meal for her ex-fiancé with sesame oil, which he’s allergic to. While the premise is interesting and provides lots of potential for wild plot twists and turns, the film ultimately disappoints in terms of its storyline.
“Hypnotic” tends to bend the rules for plot convenience. Since the real laws of hypnosis are not rigidly outlined, the film uses them to its convenience. There’s one point where Dr. Meade tells Jenn to “sleep,” which forces her to fall to the ground. Still, she’s able to reach and grab something on the floor, which she wasn’t able to do the previous appointment. There are other instances of inconsistency where Jenn either can or cannot get out of the hypnotic trance Dr. Meade puts her in. It’s a little confusing and especially frustrating to watch Siegel, a talented actress, stuck in a passive role.
As a horror film fan, Siegel is one of my favorite actresses for thriller movies. She plays Maddie, the deaf protagonist who must fight off an intruder in her home in “Hush,” and Theodora, the strong and somewhat closed-off middle child in “The Haunting of Hill House.” Both of these characters are tough and take control of their actions. But in “Hypnotic,” Jenn just seems to react to whatever happens to her for the majority of the film. Yes, she’s under hypnosis for a lot of the movie; however, it’s still difficult to watch Siegel merely react to major events, knowing how active and in control she’s been in past roles. Siegel plays a strong, gritty protagonist well, but in this role, she seems to be going through the motions.
The film still offers some decent twists that I did enjoy. But if it didn’t, the film wouldn’t be a thriller. “Hypnotic” seems to do the bare minimum for a thriller that had the potential to really go anywhere it wanted. If mind control and hypnosis are possible, the options are endless. Instead, the filmmakers seemed to check off their to-do list of thriller chores — creating temporary suspense and anxiety — and call it a day. What makes a good thriller is the feeling that there can be a surprise at any given moment, and that feeling fails to persist throughout “Hypnotic.”
Although technically fulfilling the thriller necessities, “Hypnotic” lacks qualities that would take the film to the next level. I guess I’m disappointed because the premise of hypnosis offers endless possibilities that ultimately were not taken advantage of. Plus, Kate Siegel could’ve been given more to work with. In the end, “Hypnotic” settles where it could have taken off.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.