Frightfest 2013 Review: THE HYPNOTIST, Cold Crime And Heated Tempers Collide

Swedish thiller The Hypnotist has some good pedigree behind it. It is based on a novel by Lars Kepler, one of the stars of the new wave of Scandinavian crime fiction; it's directed by Lasse Hallström, whose previous films include What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Cider House Rules, and it's Sweden's official entry for the Oscars. Luckily, this pedigree shows in a substantial, tight film that takes its time unfolding and yet keeps tension alive.

Police detective Joona Linna is investigating the triple murder of a family; one son, Josef, is in a coma, and one estranged daughter is missing. Unable to find any clues, he calls upon a disgraced hypnotist, Erik Bark, to try and get an answer from the comatose son. But what Bark learns only leads to more danger, for both Linna and Bark.

I haven't read a lot of this new wave of crime fiction, but having seen a fair number of the films, it's safe to say that most of them seem to be set during the winter. I suppose this is a vision that most people have of Scandinavian countries, and as a Canadian, I can understand and appreciate the atmosphere that cold and snow lend. Hallström takes advantage of this by placing the outside cold in opposition to the passionate and heated tempers of the characters: Linna's, in his frustration with the case and trying to work with an officer less committed to the job than him; Bark's wife Simone (played by the wonderful Lena Olin), who still doesn't trust her husband after an affair he had with a local doctor; and the strange memories that are deep in Josef's mind.

At nearly two hours, I'm guessing that the film includes a lot more of the details of the book than one would normally expect in such a film (although it is my understanding that it does not follow the story as in the book exactly). That shows in the attention paid to the life of the characters outside of the immediate crime. And this is to the film's advantage: it gives a fuller understanding of motivation, allowing the actors to access deeper layers of meaning, and the director to show different metaphors and subtext.

While not technically a supernatural thriller, it has a somewhat melancholic and creepy mood that makes it feel as such. The inclusion of hypnotism adds to this, and the film asks whether we can believe that hypnotism is real, or merely makes false memories. Can we trust our own memory? Do we lead our memories on for our own gratification, justification of our fears or attempts to hide our misdeeds?

Looking back over Hallström's filmography (and admittedly his Hollywood work is a bit mixed in quality), I was surprised to find that crime thrillers haven't entered into his repertoire, though family dramas have, and The Hypnotist feels like an extension of this. The story and direction are asking us to look not only at the crime, but the people surrounding it, and how they affect how the crime is solved.

While not quite the powerhouse film that, say, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is, The Hypnotist is an impressive return to his native country for Hallström. It has some wonderful, nuanced performances, and features the very definition of a nail-biting ending. It kept me engaged and intrigued, and is a solid addition to the current Scandinavian crime film cycle.

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