The average horror movie does one of two things – take something seemingly harmless and turn it into a mechanism of terror. Or, you take what a large part of the general public already has a phobia for, and you ratchet up the intensity. Hypnotic, Netflix’s latest suspense thriller, does the latter. As the name suggests, hypnosis is at the center of the story, and who in their right mind wants to go through that?! It’s scary enough to just enter a therapist’s office, where your raw emotions will be on full display. But to give them complete control? To hand them the keys to your subconscious to take for a test drive? Miss me with that, I’d rather bottle up my emotions until it reaches an unhealthy boiling point.
Budding Scream Queen Kate Siegel stars as Jenn Tompson, a young woman afflicted by the tragic circumstances that ended her previous relationship. Seeing that she needs help, a friend recommends her to Dr. Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara), who agrees instantly to be her therapist. During treatment, Meade suggests that hypnosis is the best method to relax Jenn’s troubled mind. Unbeknownst to Jenn, however, is the suspicious stories involving multiple former patients of Meade’s. But before long, Jenn is having unexplainable blackouts, and she starts to suspect that something isn’t quite right with her friendly doctor.
It is not hard to predict what’s transpiring in Jenn’s life, but the filmmakers swing for the fences as far as making this psychological game as messy as possible. Some of these swings lead to clever twists and reverses, while others strain the logic of the characters to absurd degrees. For instance, much of the plot relies on various characters answering unknown numbers on their phones – a perilous adventure for anyone looking to evade annoying family members, scammers, bill collectors, debt collectors, sexual predators, or flat earth truthers. This would be an easy fix in the plot if it’s just explained that the characters’ digital paranoia has been relaxed due to their hypnosis treatment. Instead, you’re just meant to either assume that or just accept that one character would actually answer an unknown number while driving (WHO IN THE BLUE HELL DOES THIS??!!)
When various gaps in logic aren’t staring you in the face (we’ll get to another big one later), Hypnotic is chilling and arresting. This is partially due to the cinematography and production design. Most Netflix original movies look like they were filmed in a Walmart parking lot and were only allowed access between noon and 2 pm. However, Hypnotic looks like an actual movie (admittedly a low bar). Co-directors Suzanne Coote and Matt Angel give their film a deliberately cold, emotionless feel with a blend of art deco. Meade’s office looks like it was leased from Christian Grey. Shots linger in long, narrow hallways, while the editing and close-ups make Meade seem appropriately disturbing. In the best scary movies, the set design and camera movements do not announce the danger, they merely imply it. The film’s apex occurs in a very creepy scene where one of our protagonists is being stalked, but due to clever blurring of the background, we do not know by whom.
The story presents itself, initially, as a warning about psychotherapy, but the real story is about the terror of obsession. As we learn more about Meade, he’s painted as a character that wants to mold women into his ideal vision of feminity. The movie alludes to the lineage of toxic masculinity, and how that history can impact men like Meade. He has no empathy for his patients because he’s been conditioned to assume absolute power over them.
In an attempt to understand Meade’s power and motivations, Jenn goes after the source of his inspiration and tutelage. This involves her just barging into someone’s home, a big no-no when you’re in a suspense thriller. I think we’ve all run out of room to defend these stupid decisions, which can easily be justified if you dramatize the desperation that is motivating Jenn. Which would require you to show the anguish and indecision through her performance and facial expressions, before she just has to be brash and break in. But no such nuance is depicted in the scene, nor is it explained why the door was open in the first place (you could easily rationalize this, but it would just be headcanon).
These story failures act like death by a thousand cuts on the movie’s internal logic. They distract from some solid directing and a game cast. O’Mara is believably condescending and sociopathic, and the supporting characters fill their roles well. Dulé Hill plays a detective with a vendetta against Meade, and his gruff demeanor, mixed with a dash of “I can’t be bothered with anyone’s shit” is admirable for its sincerity. Tanja Dixon-Warren comes out of nowhere to bat cleanup as a therapist who may be Jenn’s only hope. It’s also certainly not lost on an attentive viewer that every ally of Jenn is either a woman or a minority, in opposition to a powerful white man, which is certainly a mood I don’t think this movie has the pedigree to tackle.
Overall, Hypnosis is still kind of fun even if it is very stupid. It never ventures into the ridiculous territory needed to laugh with it as opposed to at it, which ultimately hurts its engagement or replay value. As a B movie to spend a random evening with, it’s not a terrible decision. But like hypnosis itself, you won’t be upset if you miss it.