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When Detective Janet Losey (Shirley Henderson) discovers that the hypnotist who is curing her smoking habit has the exceptional gift of seeing images in his patients minds, she drags the reluctant Michael Strother (Goran Visnjic) into the case of a young girl she’s minding. Heather (Sophie Stuckey) had escaped from a serial killer in London, but hasn’t spoken a word since the trauma. Strother, recently arrived from the US with his own young daughter (Lauren Gabrielle Volpert) and pregnant wife Clara (Miranda Otto) is faced with a familiar situation as his gift puts him and his family in danger when he tries to help Heather. With the help of the reclusive historian, Elliott (Paddy Considine), Losey and Strother find bizarre clues, including occult tattoos, that lead them to a mysterious Professor Lebourg (Fiona Shaw) who may provide the crucial link to find the killer.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
When the English get it right, they can do creepy better than probably anyone. It’s their innate sense of understatement that – as old Hitch demonstrated many times – makes fear grow in our hearts. Hypnotic is not flawless, and some aspects could have been strengthened, but overall, it’s a seductive escape. From the casting to the music, from the editing to the cinematography, Hypnotic outdoes most of what Hollywood does these days in order to make us dread the night. Casting: Shirley Henderson is hardly the eye catching blonde. But she’s every inch the actor, creating a credible police woman whose well meaning attempts at trying to solve the crime are derided by her superiors. Snooty lot, too. 

And Goran Visnjic. Goran who!? Well, Goran the gifted, actually, Goran of The Deep End, for a start. A masculine-handsome actor with range and charisma, a kind of Antonio Banderas with a better command of English. Music: Simon Boswell’s score avoids the clichés but strikes the right chords. Editing: intelligently edited, by which I mean Niven Howie has assumed the audience has some. Cinematography: Peter Sova’s lighting is a welcome mixture of naturalism and stylish mood-setting. Performances are solid and engaging; even if Visnjic and Otto don’t pair sensually (after all, she’s pregnant), both deliver terrific characterisations. Otto does it with a fluid and likeable American accent, complete with voice tone, which is remarkably effective as short hand to her character. 

Visnjic does it with inner workings that are shown in his face. Nick Willing’s direction is energised without hysteria, and best of all, the film never abandons it’s focus for sheer effect. As an example of genre-straddling between psychological thriller and horror, the film is entertainingly pungent. And Hypnotic’s literary ancestry ensures a complex scenario in which our imaginations can participate.

Review by Louise Keller:
A ripper of a psychological thriller with a supernatural twist and a touch of horror, Hypnotic is the kind of film to keep you awake at night. Based on a book with the compelling title of Doctor Sleep, director Nick Willing (Photographing Fairies) has co-written an unnerving script that manages to keep us on edge from start to finish. Willing knows how to intrigue his audience, offering bait a little at a time, until we are totally sucked into the story and the characters. Much of the success of the film comes from the enigmatic and compelling performance of its very handsome leading man Goran Visnjic (The Deep End), whose dark, chiselled features could well feature in any woman’s fantasies. But the fantasies that we are dealing with here are of another kind, and the images that flash through his mind from his patients’ are disturbing. Visnjic is both charismatic and credible, as he is coerced into assisting in the murder investigation. 

What could be considered a bizarre casting choice (by Hollywood standards in any event) is the diminutive and very suburban English Shirley Henderson (Wonderland), whose unlikely pairing with Visnjic actually works well. Opposites in every way (he is tall, she is short; he is highly sensitive, she is pragmatic), theirs is an unusual relationship that begins as doctor/patient, but the balance of power quickly changes when Janet shows her policewoman’s badge and Michael is obliged to help. Don’t let Henderson’s size fool you – she has strength and determination in all her roles, and while their relationship is only professional, it resonates with truth as they form a tight-knight alliance. But they are not the only characters at odds with each other: Miranda Otto’s pregnant and insecure wife Clara adds another dimension to Michael: they seem bound together by the past and fear. I like Paddy Considine’s rather offbeat Elliot, whose war model collection is a curious sideline for his passion for ancient liturgies, and the setting of his home office, right next to the noisy train line, adds a certain anxiety. 

As the story gets going, the tension and red herrings begin. There’s always a feeling of unease and uncertainty with shadows that jump and even the most mundane of occurrences have a sense of menace about them. These reach fever point and there’s positive terror at hand as the strands of the story finally come together. Be warned – there are some highly disturbing scenes, and you may want to look away (as I did). This is truly edge of the seat stuff and as the story reaches its resolution, there is no final comfort on which to sleep soundly. On the contrary, Hypnotic will tantalise you deep in the night when others are dreaming of blue skies, green fields and yellow daffodils. Don’t miss it.

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(aka Doctor Sleep)

CAST: Goran Visnjic, Paddy Considine, Shirley Henderson, Miranda Otto, Corin Redgrave, Claire Rushbrook, Fiona Shaw

PRODUCER: Michele Camarda

DIRECTOR: Nick Willing

SCRIPT: William Brookfield, Nick Willing (novel by Madison Smartt Bell)


EDITOR: Niven Howie

MUSIC: Simon Boswell


OTHER: Language – English, French

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 13, 2003 (Sydney; other states to follow)

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