THE HYPNOTIST Movie Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
DVD released by Studiocanal
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Written by Lasse Hallström and Paolo Vacirca, adapted from the novel by Alexander Ahndoril (as Lars Kepler)
2012, 122 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 15th September 2014
Tobias Zilliacus as Joona Linna
Mikael Persbrandt as Erik Maria Bark
Lena Olin as Simone Bark
Helena af Sandeberg as Daniella
Oscar Pettersson as Benjamin
In 2009, the Swedish husband-wife writing duo Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril released the bestselling crime novel Hypnotisören (The Hypnotist) under the fictitious name of Lars Kepler. Interestingly enough, the name Lars Kepler was derived as a tribute to the late Stieg Larsson (Author of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) and revered German scientist Johannes Kepler. With even their name coded under a pseudonym, it is no surprise that The Hypnotist drew acclaim for its visceral blend of mystery and beautifully intricate plot devices. With such success, it was the Academy award nominated director/screenwriter Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, Cider House Rules) who took charge of the cinematic adaptation. Although The Hypnotist was put forward as Sweden's entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar for the February 2013 awards, it ultimately flatters to deceive due to its gaping plot holes that damage an otherwise grippingly tense and stylish noir thriller.
The Hypnotist begins with a flashing blaze of violence. A family is found viciously murdered with teenage son, Josef (Jonatan Bökman) left for dead in a comatose state, as the only witness. With detective Joona Linna (Tobias Zilliacus) desperate to find answers, he seeks help from leading hypnotist Erik Bark (Mikael Persbrandt) to try and reach Josef's subconscious mind. While the investigation unravels, Erik's marriage with wife Simone (Lena Olin) becomes increasingly strained due to Erik's previous bout of adultery some years ago. When their young haemophilic son Benjamin is kidnapped by an unknown assailant, the two cases become blurred. Are the murders and the kidnapping linked? Who is the dark hooded figure stalking Erik and Simone? A game of cat and mouse ensues, led by the unwavering detective Jooma who becomes obsessed in his pursuit to catch the perpetrator.
One can't help but draw parallels with Dennis Villenueve's dark thriller Prisoners (2013) in which an obsessive detective (Gylenhaal) dedicates his existence to solving a kidnapping. While The Hypnotist is engaging and whisks you along its windy streets of uncertainty, the lack of cohesiveness and overemphasis on the broken marital subplot detracts from the far more engaging investigation at hand. The ultimate reveal does kick you in the teeth with surprise but it's the bizarre, unexplained revelation of the killer's motives that doesn't tie together. It feels like the murderer's drive to exact vengeance on the family is omitted from the final screenplay. It's that classic scenario where the adaptation of Kepler's novel omits that critical piece necessary to complete the jigsaw puzzle.
The Hypnotist is underpinned by strong performances and dazzles in its tension-fuelled glacial finale. With that typical Scandinavian darkness and surprising bursts of violence, Hallström's film is at its best during the scenes of hypnosis where it's reminiscent of watching a master craftsman unpick a lock without the key. These moments ask pertinent questions on the hidden aspect of the human psyche that we rarely seek to explore. Is our memory just a concoction of events we care to store? It's a question that stimulates a great deal of reflexivity. At face value The Hypnotist is an enthralling thriller, it's only when we are put to sleep in that chair that we begin seeing the cracks beneath the surface.