I knew nothing about the film before I watched it, nor about the events on which it is based. Perhaps because of this I became very confused about the film's point of view.
At base, this film asks the viewer to try to distinguish reality from fantasy during a police inquiry into accusations of satanic abuse. The problem with the fim-maker's style, for me, was that all the resources of cinema were used to illustrate not only the satanic abuse reported by witnesses but also other scenarios that had not been reported, so we saw constant scenes of abusers with spookily made-up faces and monks' cowls, and various horrific depictions of satanic abuse. Because cinema is a naturalistic medium, it was difficult to know what was fantasy and what was reality.
The film in some ways had a classic detective-story structure, with Ethan Hawke as the determined investigator. But it became clear that he was an unreliable first-person character after he began behaving irrationally, and that left me, as a viewer, with nothing to cling to as a source of viewpoint in the film. When it came to scenes in which the detective was absent, it was even more difficult to distinguish what the film-maker was depicting as real and what as fantasy. For example, when the victim's grandmother went out to her shed, she saw a normal cat, which turned into a devil cat. This had nothing to do with the investigation, yet its satanic imagery was of the same type as that provoked by the regression-therapy sessions. Perhaps some point was being made about the phenomenon of group hallucination or delusion, but the film repeatedly neglected its responsibility to give us a touchstone by which we could judge the accuracy of what we were seeing.
I think the film could have addressed the topic better with the excellent actors at its disposal by NOT depicting any of the satanic events. It would have been all the more chilling for that, adding to the tension of the inquiry. The most famous dramatisation of this sort of subject matter was Arthur Miller's "The Crucible". Miller creates nightmarish scenes of communal paranoia but without illustrating any of the events described by the witnesses. And this does not hinder the story's potency. (What could be more horrific than to see Miller's village girls in full accusatory mode, triggering the arrest of various pillars of the community on charges of devil worship?) "Regression", however, lacks the necessary moral distance from the events it depicts. Only in the last minute or two is sanity restored. I left the cinema feeling as if I had been cruelly led about by the nose to no satisfactory purpose.
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