Hypnotic (2023) poster

Hypnotic (2023)


USA. 2023.


Director/Story – Robert Rodriguez, Screenplay – Max Borenstein & Robert Rodriguez, Producers – Guy Botham, Lisa Ellzey, Mark Gill, John Graham, Racer Max, Jeff Robinov & Robert Rodriguez, Photography – Pablo Berron & Robert Rodriguez, Music – Rebel Rodriguez, Additional Music – John Debney, Visual Effects Supervisor – Joel Sevilla, Visual Effects – Barnstorm VFX (Senior Supervisor – Lawson Deming) & Boat FX (Supervisor – Jiwoong Kim), Special Effects Supervisor – Bob Trevino, Production Design – Gaylah Eddleblute & Steve Joyner. Production Company – Solstice Studios/Studio 8/Ingenious Media/Double R Productions.


Ben Affleck (Danny Rourke), Alice Braga (Diana Cruz), William Fichtner (Dellrayne), J.D. Pardo (Randy Nicks), Dayo Okeniyi (River), Jeff Fahey (Carl), Jackie Earle Haley (Jeremiah), Hala Finley (Minnie 10 Years Old), Ionie Nieves (Minnie 7 Years Old), Steve Brudniak (Texas Ranger), Nikki Dixon (Therapist), Derek Russo (Tiny), Sandy Avita (Thelma), Natalie Garcia (Bank Teller), Kelly Frye (Vivian Rourke)


Danny Rourke, a police detective in Austin, Texas, is grieving over the abduction of his daughter Minnie three years earlier. She has not been found and the man responsible claims to have no memory of doing so. Danny and his partner Nicks are called in after a tipoff is received about a bank vault robbery about to occur. Observing the scene, Danny sees a man Dellrayne who speaks to people on the street, guards and a teller, whereupon they suddenly do as he says and aid the robbery. Danny gets to the vault first only to find what Dellrayne is looking for – a photo of Danny’s daughter – but Dellrayne gets away by turning Danny’s fellow officers against him. Clues lead Danny to Diana Cruz who operates a fortune telling store. Diana explains that both she and Dellrayne are Hypnotics who have the ability to push their thoughts on others by creating constructs where people do their bidding as though it was perfectly normal. She belonged to the government agency The Division where Dellrayne proved the most powerful of the Hypnotics. Following a mind wipe, Dellrayne is now searching for items he has stored in bank vaults that will reactivate his memories. Dellrayne comes after Danny and Diana, forcing them to become fugitives and flee across the border into Mexico. Even then, Danny cannot be sure what he is seeing is real or a construct.

Robert Rodriguez has become a major director since the 1990s, delivering works like From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Spy Kids (2001), Sin City (2005), Machete (2010) and Alita: Battle Angel (2019). Throughout this time, Rodriguez has become a fierce independent, having built his own studio in Austin, Texas. He has been incredibly prolific in his output, sometimes putting out two films a year (although this started to slow down by the end of the 2010s). Indeed, his output has be measured by the number of multiple concurrent film franchises he has running – four at current count. Moreover, he has repeatedly brought his own family into the business – here his son Rebel composes the score and his other son Racer Max is one of the film’s producers. (See below for a full list of Robert Rodriguez’s other genre films).

Almost every reviewer rushed to compare Hypnotic to Firestarter (1984) and the character of Andy McGee (played in the film by David Keith). This was the first person in a film to have demonstrated the powers of a pusher – someone who can control or coerce the minds of others. (Of Firestarter (2022), we shall pretend to forget). An earlier case could be made for the children in Village of the Damned (1960). However, it is a mistake to say that Firestarter is the only treatment of such an idea and variations have also appeared in the likes of The X Files episode Pusher (1996) and the films Push (2009), The Prodigies (2011), Seconds Apart (2011), The Darkest Minds (2018), Freaks (2018) and Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2021). (See Films About Psychic Powers). Despite the title, here is not much about Hypnotism in the film, although the elaborate reality-bending charades the film engages in remind something of the standout Danny Boyle film Trance (2013).

About two-thirds of Hypnotic plays out as a standard psychic powers film. A frequent trope in these films is plots about people, usually the psychics, as fugitives and this quickly follows suit. Doing so gives Hypnotic quite a number of similarities to the George Pal film The Power (1968), which had George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette fleeing from a powerful psychic who was able to harness illusion in an effort to eliminate them before Hamilton found that he too had the same powers and could fight back, just as Ben Affleck does here. Rodriguez does an okay if nothing standout job of developing this out.

Ben Affleck searches for his missing daughter in Hypnotic (2023)
Detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) searches for his missing daughter

It is after the one-hour point that Robert Rodriguez starts to get weird on us and pulls a Conceptual Reversal Twist (actually multiple series of twists – even ones that keep going as the credits run) and jerks the carpet out from under us about what is going on. In these scenes, I was reminded most of the games of Reality and Illusion that went on in the recent Bloodshot (2020). Or even something of the psychological fugue states that we have in films like Shutter Island (2010) or Dream House (2011) – at a stretch you could even draw an analogy to Ben Affleck’s character in Paycheck (2003). A similar mix of reality-bending and psychic powers also appeared in Robert Rodriguez’s other recent film Red 11 (2019).

As with some of these elaborate reality-bending twists that occur in post-M. Night Shyamalan works, you end up questioning the plausibility of the set-up. PLOT SPOILERS]. Would the best treatment for getting someone to divulge information be to implant an entire set of false memories where the person believes they have a missing child to the extent they are haunted by the loss and need to attend a psychologist? I would also expect that creating memories where the subject thinks someone else is his wife and that one of the agency superiors is a major villain is quite likely possible to have unexpected or future repercussions – indeed, the film was so successful in building William Fichtner up as the bad guy in the early sections that I was having difficulty accepting him as just a regular agent in the subsequent scenes. By about the time of the major plot twist that comes at the end, all of this started to feel like an improbably far-fetched house of cards that was starting to collapse in on itself.

Robert Rodriguez’s other films of genre interest are the vampire/getaway thriller From Dusk Till Dawn (1996); the witty teen body snatchers film The Faculty (1998); the juvenile spy adventure Spy Kids (2001) and sequels Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011); the graphic novel adaptation/film noir pastiche Sin City (2005) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014); the children’s film The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005); the zombie film Planet Terror (2007), half of the Quentin Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse (2007); the children’s film Shorts (2009); Machete Kills (2013), a sequel to his earlier Mexican-themed action film that frequently enters into science-fiction territory; the manga adaptation Alita: Battle Angel (2019); Red 11 (2019), a mind-bending work set during an experimental drug trial; and the kid superheroes film We Can Be Heroes (2020). Rodriguez has also produced From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999), From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (2000) and Predators (2010), as well as developed the tv series From Dusk Till Dawn (2014-6).

Robert Rodriguez co-writes with Max Borenstein, a screenwriter most associated with Warner Brother’s Monsterverse and writer of Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), Godzilla, King of the Monsters (2019) and Godzilla vs Kong (2021). Borenstein also created/produced the tv series’ Minority Report (2015) and The Terror (2018) and the horror film Ascension (2018).

Trailer here

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