The Pitch: Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) is your run-of-the-mill city cop. He’s fit, grumbles his way through just about every sentence, and makes decisions based on his always-correct intuition (who needs standard procedure anyways?!). Of course, he’s also troubled by a tragic backstory: the kidnapping of his daughter. Ten minutes in, and it’s set up to be a classic detective-driven action flick, except for one small catch – hypnotics.
You see, in this world, Jedi mind tricks are real. With little more than the right string of words and the wave of your hand, you can take control of another person… so long as you have enough of whatever Hypnotic’s analog to midichlorians are, that is. Like Christopher Nolan’s Inception (a film that no doubt influenced the script of Hypnotic), it’s a world that constantly casts doubt on its own established reality, and the rabbit hole goes surprisingly deep.
While attempting to prevent a bank robbery, Rourke stumbles across this world of hypnotics, leading him to unravel a deep-state conspiracy that seemingly leads back to his missing daughter. Que Inception foghorn.
Yesteryear’s High Concepts: On paper, the pitch makes Robert Rodriguez’s Hypnotic sound like the type of action movie that rarely gets made anymore; High-concept popcorn flicks that center around government conspiracies and general themes of family, free will, or basic morality. They’re movies that take a fairly archetypal story, add one or two vague sci-fi elements to it, and squeeze out 90 minutes of conflict. Think Minority Report or Eagle Eye, Next or Law Abiding Citizen. Hell, even Affleck himself is no stranger to the micro-genre, as anyone who remembers Paycheck can confirm.
Look closely, and you’ll find the common denominator that connects all of these examples: a 2000s release date. And despite being released 13 years after the end of that decade, Hypnotic feels no different. If the film was branded as a long-lost Ben Affleck vehicle from 2009, nobody would have thought twice. Everything from its concept to the exposition-heavy script to the yellowed color grading and action choreography just oozes a distinctly aughts tone. It comes as no surprise, then, that the origins of Hypnotic date back to 2002.
Whether it was a conscious artistic decision or not, the 2000s vibes translate to the performances as well. Affleck’s gruff, angry-but-morally-righteous character provides him little room to flex his on-screen chops. He’s charismatic and worth rooting for, but the complexities of Danny Rourke are eclipsed by even Affleck’s vengeance-obsessed portrayal of Batman. The rest of the cast fares similarly: William Fichtner is the uncompromising villain that’s always three steps ahead (until he’s not), and Alice Braga is the seasoned guide and inevitable love interest. Each plays their part well enough, but the script stunts them from achieving any true brilliance.
Which is not to say that this is all entirely to the movie’s detriment. Sure, if its production timeline was condensed and the movie came out before novelty New Year’s glasses became significantly more awkward, it might have blended in a little too well with the rest of that decade’s releases. But to make such a film in a post-Marvel, post-streaming world, it’s a legitimately interesting feat. The ultimate result is a decently-engaging watch with enough fast-paced plot twists to shock M. Night Shyamalan.
Topsy Turny Twisty Doo: Without entering spoiler territory, Hypnotic has more turns than a country road. Some are more surprising than others, but none fall completely flat on their face. And with the speed that the script throws them at the audience, there’s rarely a chance to mentally check out. Thanks to such a breakneck pace and its brisk runtime, you won’t reach for your phone to distract you all that often — a metric that speaks volumes in 2023.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the reality-bending rules of the film’s world. If anything can prove to be a mere illusion, how can a viewer take the stakes of the story seriously? It’s a valid issue. But Hypnotic’s strengths don’t rely on its ability to engage the audience on such a deep level. It won’t inspire tears or even gasps. It will, however, keep you in your seat to see how it all shakes out, and even the reveals you see coming a mile away still manage to take the story in some unexpected directions. Every time you think Hypnotic has fully lost you, it’ll do something just interesting enough to pull you back in.
The Verdict: Will Hypnotic end up on any publication’s “Best Films of 2023” list? Probably not. Will it be a film that’s cultural impact will be discussed and dissected for years on end? Also, not likely. But will it be one of those movies that comes up every few Thanksgivings, to which your mom will remark, “Oh yeah! That was a good one, wasn’t it?” Yeah, that sounds about right.
Where to Watch: Hypnotic hits theaters on May 12th.