As Nordic noir continues to capture the popular imagination, Swedish thriller author Lars Kepler (in fact the pseudonym of husband-and-wife team Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril) is being hailed as "the next Stieg Larsson" - so when Swedish-born, US-resident director Lasse Hallström (My Life As A Dog, Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, entc.) agreed to adapt Kepler's 2009 novel Hypnotisören for the big screen, one might reasonably have expected Hollywood-friendly procedural akin to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Certainly the opening scene of The Hypnotist hits the ground running, as a P.E. teacher is shown being brutally (and multiply) stabbed in his gymnasium by an unseen assailant. Shortly afterwards, the teacher's wife and daughter are also found dead in their home, with only son Josef (Jonatan Bökman) surviving, though injured and comatose. Desperate to identify the killer, Stockholm police detective Joona Linna (Tobias Zilliacus) turns to Erik Bark (Mikael Persbrandt), an expert in acute trauma and a talented hypnotist, to recover eyewitness memories from the unconscious boy - but after Erik's own son Benjamin (Oscar Petersson) is kidnapped, the focus shifts to the hypnotist's own troubled past and his fragile relationship with his wife Simone (played by Hallström's wife Lena Olin).
This is also where the film falls flat. Very little happens slowly and repetitively, the twists are too well forecast to be of any surprise, and Erik and Simone fail to emerge as characters even though their prominence in this melodrama requires us to engage with them. Television's The Killing has shown how scenes of parents working through the trauma of loss can be both gripping and heartbreaking, whereas The Hypnotist merely sleepwalks through these tropes in a manner that is as chilly and numbing as the snow and ice outside. Simone's repeated, shrill complaints that no-one is doing anything underlines this very fact for the viewer, and just makes her appear more annoying and alienating than sympathetic. It is not long before the recurrent motifs of sedative drugs, deep slumbers, comas and hypnosis have all come to highlight the film's soporific pace, making the viewer just feel sleepier and sleepier.
Lacking the manipulative mesmerism of, say, Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Cure or Danny Boyle's Trance, The Hypnotist has to fall back on its human drama, which is precisely where it singularly fails. It is, however, much more successful in its wide, austere cinematography (from DP Mattias Montero). One sequence, in which artist Simone, under hypnosis, envisages herself within a live version of Andrew Wyeth's 1948 painting Christina's World, is particularly striking - a rare moment when Halleström's film becomes hypnotic in the best sense of the word.
'The Hypnotist' screens at Film4 FrightFest...
Main Screen, Sat 24th August, 10.30am
Follow Anton on Twitter: @AntBit