Directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Ben Affleck and Alice Braga, Hypnotic is a dull blend of other, better films.
At first glance, Hypnotic appears to be a typical mystery thriller. It follows despondent detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) as he tries to cope with the loss of his daughter after she’s kidnapped by unknown assailants. And when a bank robbery goes awry, Rourke finds clues that lead him to believe the bank robbers and his daughter’s kidnappers are connected. In his pursuit for the truth, he recruits psychic Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), who opens up a whole world Rourke (and the audience) aren’t ready for.
As usual, Rodriguez wears many different production hats while behind the camera. He directs, writes, and acts as his own director of photography. The only thing he takes a backseat to is writing the music, which he coincidentally entrusted to his son Rebel Rodriguez. The result is certainly a movie with big swings. The deeper Rourke journeys into this mystery, the more he sees how much of his life oddly coincides with Lev Dellrayne (William Fitchner). And when actual supernatural abilities enter the plot, everything drastically changes not just Rourke’s perception of reality, but the audience’s entire understanding of what kind of movie they’re watching.
The twists continue as Rodriguez continually changes the playing field for the entirety of the 144 minutes, as you sit there constantly playing a guessing game of what might happen next and probably getting it wrong. Mostly because Hypnotic tries for unearned shock value more than anything else. Rodriguez takes plausible hooks and ideas that could be grandiose, but end up having no true connection to where these characters began.
“Are you familiar with the concept of Hypnotics?”
This audience cat-and-mouse game Rodriguez seems to be playing is about as entertaining as this movie gets unfortunately. The constant twists that are the film’s most unique selling point are also its greatest weakness as it forces Rodriguez to bloat the film with constant exposition to explain to the audience exactly why, and what, is happening. You might’ve heard the phrase, “show, don’t tell” at one point, but it turns out Rodriguez heard the phrase, “Tell them. Tell them so much, you forget to show them anything interesting on screen.”
There are attempts at some reality-bending CGI as mystical elements make the characters see buildings and streets move location and dimension, but then all that’s undercut by how the movie also has the lighting Saw. It ultimately looks like a cut-rate version of the Doctor Strange films while somehow looking worse than movies like Inception from 13 years ago. At least a similarly bonkers movie like Serenity was gaudy in an interesting way.
So, what happened here? Well, Rodriguez, who’s known for making financially lean movies, was handcuffed like a lot of other filmmakers in 2020. After a shutdown of production, the filmmakers opted to leave their in-person scouted sets in Los Angeles and instead build an entire studio in Texas. This massive disruption might explain the corner-cutting in terms of what’s on display, but it doesn’t explain the inexcusable performances.
With the exception of Fitchner’s exceptional bad guy, everyone else onscreen appears to want to be anywhere else. Affleck plays the part as oddly apathetic and dispassionate for someone whose entire world shatters and reshapes itself every 10 minutes. Even usually reliable actors like Braga gets dimmed and weighed down by Rodriguez’s heavy-handed “Tell them so much they’ll forget it all in an instant” writing.
The bottom line.
Ultimately, Hypnotic fails to blow away the audience with its admittedly intriguing tease of a premise. If you’re expecting to leave the theater the same way you did other movies promising shock and awe like Prisoners or The Usual Suspects, you’ll probably walk away more confused than anything else. At least the movie moves somewhat quickly, and the twists are just interesting enough to be momentarily engaging. Just never emotionally engaging. To the point where the only hypnosis happening here is when the audience lulls itself to sleep.
Hypnotic opens in theaters May 12.
Images courtesy of Ketchup Entertainment.
HYPNOTIC - 5.5/10