An Austin detective reeling from the mysterious disappearance of his daughter becomes embroiled in a secret government program – or does he? – in Hypnotic, a new puzzle-box thriller opening in cinemas in Prague and worldwide this weekend.
With a mind-bending narrative that can be charitably described as Christopher Nolan-lite and some florid Brian De Palma-esque direction courtesy of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, Hypnotic offers up some fleeting fun but ultimately comes off as unsatisfying. There’s a real a glut of original content at the cinema, especially adult thrillers, but this one is only barely passable as late-night streaming fare.
Hypnotic‘s biggest issue is that it lets the cat out the bag way too early: within minutes, we’re all too aware that the movie isn’t on the level, and all manner of twists and turns lie ahead. Ben Affleck stars as detective Danny Rourke, who recounts the disappearance of his eight-year-old daughter Minnie in an opening therapy scene.
The very next sequence is a bank robbery so perplexing that the audience instinctively knows the jig is up. The heist involves a mysterious caller who somehow knows the exact number of the safety deposit box that will be robbed, and the contents of said box, which the detective gets to first, is a lone polaroid photograph of Rourke’s daughter with the cryptic message “Find Lev Dell Rayne.”
And then there’s the robber (William Fichtner), who Rourke somehow identifies as Dell Rayne… because he’s trying to steal the photograph of a missing child with his name on it? Dell Rayne is a “hypnotic” who uses Jedi mind tricks to get random strangers to rob the bank for him, causing all manner of death and destruction. This, despite the fact that he’s perfectly capable of getting the bank teller to get him what he wants without making a scene.
Running down his only lead, Rourke is drawn into the underground world of hypnotics by fortune teller Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), who leads him down to Mexico and spins a tale of a shady government hypnotic program along the way.
The problem is that by this point it’s too hard to get us to buy into whatever is going on, and how it might relate to Rourke’s missing daughter. The opening bank robbery sequence was so senseless and implausible that it rendered Hypnotic impossible to appreciate as any kind of on-the-level thriller. The movie will explain itself later, sure, but there was no attempt to draw us into any kind of tangible world.
Despite all of Hypnotic‘s storytelling faults, this is undeniably an entertaining feature, even if most of the interest comes from waiting for just what the plot will drop on us next. The reveals start coming in at around the halfway mark, and every bewildering twist buys the movie a few more minutes of “wait… what?” interest.
DIY filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (who also served as editor and cinematographer here, with his family members involved in many other facets of production) really knows how to efficiently put a movie together, and Hypnotic looks great, with stark film noir lighting and mind-melting Inception-lite CGI effects.
Still, Hypnotic is awfully hard to recommend as something worth catching in the cinema. This may technically be a rare adult thriller in a sea of CGI blockbusters and low-budget horror movies at the multiplex, but it fits better alongside star Affleck’s last couple straight-to-streaming thrillers, Deep Water and The Last Thing He Wanted.