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Regression review: Emma Watson takes on thriller role as abused victim

As well as referring to a controversial therapy technique, which claims to heal patients by unearthing deeply buried memories, regression describes a progressive decline to a less perfect state.

It's a fitting title for this psychological thriller, written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar, which turns a tantalising premise based on true events about satanism in small-town America, into formulaic, yawn-inducing hokum.

Emma Watson takes a small step away from Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series by portraying a sexual abuse victim, whose tearful confession sets the plot in motion. Her accent isn't flawless, but neither is Ethan Hawke's portrayal of the cop who vows to protect her.

The year is 1990 and in the God-fearing town of Hoyek, Minnesota, mechanic John Gray (David Dencik) makes a nervous confession to police chief Cleveland (Peter MacNeill) that he sexually abused his 17-year-old daughter Angela (Watson) during a satanic ritual.

Gray claims to have no clear recollection of the incident, so lead detective Bruce Kenner (Hawke) enlists the services of British psychoanalyst Dr Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) to piece together the truth.

Amenabar touches upon themes of collective hysteria, devotion and self-sacrifice but becomes too bogged down in the mechanics of trying to scare us.

Hawke mumbles his flaccid lines with minimum effort, mirroring our lack of interest in the investigation.

Infuriating contrivances and police incompetence withhold simple yet vital information until the closing 10 minutes, in order to engineer what passes meekly for a final reckoning.

Two stars

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