I firmly believe that if Robert Rodriguez’s Ben Affleck-starring and Max Borenstein co-written Hypnotic had just been scored like a comedy instead of like a thriller, it would have landed a little more neatly. Affleck plays a detective Danny Rourke whose daughter was kidnapped several years ago. But now, a strange man, Dellrayne (William Fichtner), has shown up robbing a band and seemingly with information on his daughter’s whereabouts.
Seriously. This movie has some pretty solid comedic chops. Affleck just has this knowing tone at all times, like he’s at once exacerbated by the mere act of performing but also so incredibly dedicated to the absurdity that ensues before you for about 90 tight minutes. But meanwhile, his most frequent scene partner, Alice Braga, is always playing every moment so straight.
While some end-of-film context could maybe help justify her behavior movie-long, I can’t help but wonder what Hypnotic may have been like if they had matched each other’s tones more carefully and leaned into the cornball. Or, at least leaned into Affleck being a bit of a wiseguy on purpose instead of merely being surly and Braga had played off his demeanor for laughs. Because I chuckled hard more than a few times at some abrasive interactions between the two of them, and I was entirely alone, because I don’t know if anybody else in the theater was as invested in Hypnotic being a comedy as I was.
The score really doesn’t help whatsoever. It’s a constant droning drama-gasm with no defining characteristics other than its immediate implication that you ought to be confused, scared, and uncomfortable. And it worked. Only, I kind of wish it hadn’t. I was in constant suspense the entire movie. Its central mystery is captivating, and the sci-fi concept that underpins the whole movie, which I won’t even get into because to discuss it one iota would be to spoil the experience, kept me unsure of what was real or fake the entire way through.
But that suspense was baked into the fabric of the movie. It would have withstood even with a tonal shift away from overly dramatic to something more light-hearted. So much of the sense of drama and discomfort is driven purely by the score, even while some of the plot or acting borders on absurd or hilarious.
Granted, there is a monumental tone shift about two-thirds of the way through the movie when its biggest secret is revealed. It was so stark that for a while minutes after the reveal, I had to completely rethink my calculus about the movie. Was I wrong? Was this actually serious sci-fi schlock the whole time? But of course, by the final sequence, with a whole movie’s worth of mediocre VFX behind me and an obtusely snide smirk on Affleck’s face, I knew I had it pinned from the start. Hypnotic is a grade-A exploitation-esque film merely being smothered by small choices, like the score and Braga’as too serious performance. It’s just not exploiting anybody in particular, so the ingredients that would otherwise be obvious in a more outright absurd affair are harder to discern and appreciate here.
Hypnotic borders on absurd, lands nearly all of its ridiculous twists and turns, and does it all with a lead actor who, even if nobody else did, understood the assignment. The sci-fi concept is actually really strong, even if the conclusion is a bit too corny. But then again, Hypnotic managed to restore my faith in the everyone-is-dads trend after some recent outings had me falling off the train. It just should have been conceived of as closer to a comedy than as a thriller. That slight shift would have most certainly given the movie more sturdy legs to stand on and make more clear all of the aspects that I otherwise enjoyed, even if they were dulled.
Hypnotic is playing now in theaters.
Hypnotic borders on absurd, lands nearly all of its ridiculous twists and turns, and does it all with a lead actor who, even if nobody else did, understood the assignment. The sci-fi concept is actually really strong, even if the conclusion is a bit too corny.