Some films are destined for a theatrical release, being designed to be viewed on the big screen. Others are made for home viewing, and are usually referred to as direct-to-TV, DVD-bargain-bin, or, perhaps now, straight-to-streaming. There is a different level of quality, in that everything is cheaper, made faster, and more corners are cut. The budget may well be considerably bigger than a theatrically-released independent film, but the result is something much smaller in terms of quality. Hypnotic is most definitely designed for home viewing.
When watching a film, or even a trailer, you can spot trash a mile away. There are certain TV channels that show movies made in-house where the scripts are written in two days, the film shot in ten, and the editing completed in another five. More time is spent colour grading than finessing dialogue. The lead actors tend to be either washed-up 90s icons, ex-soap opera stars, or nobodies who are reasonably attractive but not good enough actors to get work in reputable films or prefer to be big fish in little ponds than small fish in Hollywood. It feels seedy, really, and exploitative all-round, though trash can also be enjoyable. One simply needs to keep one’s tongue planted firmly in one’s cheek, and here it is not.
Hypnotic begins with a scared woman trying to get hold of a detective before being crushed to death in an elevator. There is no blood, just a lot of screaming as the walls creep ever closer, and then the film cuts to a very similar looking woman turning up at a house party. This is the protagonist, played by Kate Siegel. Out of everyone, she puts the work in, and she’s not bad compared to some of the other cast members, but then she has experience leading similar straight-to-streaming films. It’s the writing and direction that let her down, not herself.
Siegel has recently been through a break-up, has problems with anxiety, and is generally unhappy. At the house party, to which her ex has been invited, she is introduced to a hypnotherapist, played by Jason O’Mara. He is clearly going for slightly-unsettling charmer here, but he instead seems a bit wooden. Again, this is not really his fault as he doesn’t have much to work with from the script.
Siegel attends therapy with O’Mara in his monolithic man-cave as she is willing to give it a go, during which she experiences blackouts. Fairly obviously the good doctor is up to something nefarious, and the twist this is leading to is glaringly obvious from the moment O’Mara appears on screen.
There are five moments of actual action in this film. One is a door being broken down, two involve cars driving at less than thirty miles an hour but with a lot of revving and wheel-spin, and the other two are fights. The first fight springs out as a little surprising in its violence, and is actually done well. The second is very poor.
The direction overall by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote is lacklustre at best. This is hammy TV-soap-opera stuff but in ultra-modern architectural settings. One particular point of irritation is the lack of attention given to properly researching anaphylactic reactions and treatment, as one character is carrying an auto-injector out of its case, and when it is later administered it is injected into the wrong place. Throw in completely incorrect symptoms and it just looks lazy. Other short-cuts are visible in the case of the detective, played in a semi-daze by Dulé Hill. The actual detective work is barely existent and the script is awful. Hill’s character is a collection of clichés: an insomniac who lives alone and watches late-night true crime documentaries whilst eating TV dinners who is also a maverick who goes against orders from his superiors, and so on. All the tropes are there but no actual detecting, so it’s possible Hill is sleepwalking through the part out of boredom rather than trying to act. Either way, he still stands out as one of the better actors here.
Hypnotic has been rushed and that makes it far from engaging. It’s waste-your-time-trash that can cheerily fill an hour and a half, but it is not worth remembering. Even a third-act reveal connecting O’Mara’s methods to an infamous conspiracy feels cheap, as it would be much more disturbing to have the rogue hypnotherapist up to no good entirely by himself. It’s all very lazy, and it shows.
The only thing worth noting is that Siegel spends the entire film fully-clothed. There are no moments of being scantily-clad, no lingerie scenes, in fact very little bare skin other than her shoulders and arms, including the moments of her in bed. This is rare, refreshing, and a positive step. I wonder how many people won’t notice. If only the rest of the film were as brave. What could have been a strong allegory for unbalanced inappropriate relationships and sexual coercion on the part of powerful men seen through the metaphorical eyes of the often vulnerable women they prey on is instead a sloppy slapdash straight-to-streaming stinker. Hypnotic is not hypnotising, merely mildly diverting. Don’t expect much.