Robert Rodriguez’s Hypnotic is a fun, unpretentious and brief little B-movie that takes us back to a very specific moment in cinema history. It has a curiously dated thriller vibe, from the score to the direction to the casting, that at times feels like Rodriguez is in full pastiche mode. The film was written in 2002 and made as if it was shot soon after. It’s such a mind-bending sci-fi thriller that probably would have been more of an event back then, starring Ben Affleck with a $70m budget. However, in 2023, it’s far from it, made back in 2021 and gathering dust ever since.
Plot and Characters
The dour and dependable star Ben Affleck plays Danny Rourke, a detective who is still searching for his kidnapped daughter, a cold trail that heats up when a picture of her is found during an elaborate heist, seemingly performed by unconnected strangers. Clues lead him to psychic Diana (Alice Braga), who informs him of so-called “hypnotics,” people with the ability to control someone’s idea of reality, reshaping it to get them to do whatever they want. They’re led by a mysterious villain (William Fichtner going full ham) who may or may not know where Rourke’s daughter is.
The hypnosis acts as a fun trick that allows for an escalation of neat mind-fuck reveals, playing with our perception of reality along with the characters. Braga is lumped with playing Mrs Exposition in the first act, but after a while, Rodriguez isn’t too invested in real coherence, playing fast and loose with the rules of the game, especially as his film enters the unhinged final third. There’s a fantastically silly twist, or at least a fantastically silly version of the twist the film keeps employing that adds an interesting and at times hilariously meta level of performance to both Affleck’s role and the film as a construct.
Production and Release
The film was originally backed by Solstice, a cursed studio that imploded after just one release. Due to the Covid-impacted film, it was sold on, eventually finding its home at Ketchup Entertainment, a small distributor without any major titles to its name (last release was 2021’s Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets).
After an unusual “work-in-progress” screening at March’s SXSW and before it makes its European premiere at this year’s Cannes film festival, it’s being rolled out wide in the US with precious little fanfare. It will probably fail to find much of an audience this weekend (it’s tracking low with around a $7m opening expected), but later when it hits streaming (an eight-figure exclusivity deal has been promised to the Universal-owned Peacock stateside), those with that aforementioned itch might find plenty worth scratching.
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Analysis and Conclusion
I would argue that something as silly yet sturdily entertaining as this would have benefited more from a late summer release, welcomed with open arms after a season of films aiming that much higher yet, probably, landing that much lower. It might have been written in 2002, but it lives very much in the shadow of 2010’s Inception, a film also about a haunted father trying to get his family back by dealing with a reality-shifting mystery. For anyone who might have grown weary of Christopher Nolan’s dry self-seriousness with 2020’s tiresome Tenet, there’s something refreshing in Rodriguez aping his shtick without such a straight face. Affleck might be hampered with a frown, but Rodriguez is clearly directing with a grin.