Netflix’s ‘Hypnotic’ Won’t Keep You up at Night 

Since when does a detective call in a full SWAT team, in full battle-gear with a military grade battering ram, for backup to take down a suspected hypnotherapist?  “Hypnotic,” from directors Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote, is one of those rare psychological thrillers where the villain actually works in the field of psychology. But the film follows the beat of a horror-slasher, and by the halfway point, the audience is subjected to shootings, stabbings, crashes, crushes, and arachnophobic spiders. For a film about a hypnotist, they really should learn to relax.

After a claustrophobic elevator freefall of an opening, “Hypnotic” lands on Jenn, played by Kate Siegel, who recently played one of the open wounds feeding the magnificent “Midnight Mass.” She enters the film with a somnambulistic aura. Hurt, lonely, defected and self-depreciating, we feel for Jenn viscerally when she clutches a wine bottle for solace and protection. Siegel transmits her emotions, a full range of them, nonverbally. She’s done this masterfully in “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” and “Gerald’s Game.” Her eyes are linguistic tools and are used to great effect in “Hypnotic,” because she can present a blank canvas. When the film opens, she is a clean slate, wiped empty by everyday trauma, stress, and unresolved guilt.

The mysterious Doctor Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara) should have the word “mysterious” on his business card. From the moment he meets “the Jenn,” as her friend Gina (Lucie Guest) introduces her, Dr. Meade goes into stealth mode, but the kind you can see. While it is easy to surreptitiously stalk someone at a crowded party, Meade’s interjection into Jenn’s social calendar is so pointed, even the other guests raise their eyebrows. Jenn just raises the glass of protective wine as a shield, but she’s gulping before it reaches her lips. Help Jenn with her anxiety? What anxiety? The kind that comes from being cornered at a dinner party? Of course, she goes for that. As the doctor says in their very first session, Jenn is very open to suggestions.

In spite of the title, “Hypnotic” doesn’t rely on subliminal messaging, and certainly has no use for subtlety. We hear the ultimate trigger in the very opening pre-credit teaser scare: “This is the way the world ends.” That’s the kind of understated, indirect commands the doctor neuro-linguistically programs into his clients’ subconscious. He doesn’t mince words. To be fair, his verbal shortcuts are time savers. All he has to do is say “stop,” “freeze,” or “sleep,” and Jenn becomes a living mannequin, with only her eyes to betray her anxiety. 

The fun thing about a movie about a modern sociopathic hypnotist is you never know when he can strike. It is a technological world, everyone is mesmerized by their cell phones, and any robocall can be your last. It seems the only thing which saves Homicide Detective Wade Rollins (Dulé Hill) from a similar fate is his phone battery is always dead.

Ask any hypnotist, and they will swear what Dr. Meade is doing is impossible. Even the hypnotist Jenn brings in to fight fire with fire, Doctor Stella Graham (Tanja Dixon-Warren) can’t believe what she witnesses when she puts the anguished Jenn into a light nap. The film attempts to make the scenario plausible in a sequence where Jenn googles hypnosis crimes on the internet, and finds articles on mind control bandits, teen gangs being hypnotized to sell drugs, and lost time. This adds some credence, and elicits empathy because Jenn herself is experiencing periods of lost time.

A hypnotized person cannot be made to do what they could not cope with morally, but lost time opens a Pandora’s box, and the usually impossible becomes somewhat probable. Then the film breaks out its most damning evidence. The very words “CIA” and “MK Ultra” are triggers for mental acceptance. Evoke the Central Intelligence Agency and drop the name of their most sinister side project and everything is possible. Film and TV viewers are conditioned to believe it. It makes for a wonderful, all-purpose shortcut. 

Of course, with the mention of the word CIA, Dr. Meade is obligated to go all-out into sleeper assassin mode. First, he dispatches an obsessive-compulsive client onto the tough Detective Rollins in a nocturnal mission. This is very clever, because the doctor knows an OCD executioner will not stop until the job is done. Anything less would drive them crazy. When other distractions get in the way, however, the mild-mannered mental hygienist dirties his hands the old-fashioned way, throttling and strangling the armed cop like a good agent is taught. And then laying with the beautiful woman like he is James Bond, in from the cold.

Inspired by “Vertigo,” “Silence of the Lambs,” and “Fatal Attraction,” if viewed on amyl nitrate, “Hypnotic” speeds through the psychological promise, and leaves visible skid marks between its twists and turns. It starts with an interesting premise, and careens into all-too-familiar territory and rhythm. It is too rote to be effective, and while it may lie somewhere in the subconscious, it is not that memorable. 

Hypnotic” begins streaming Oct. 27 on Netflix.