The Hypnosis (2023, dir. Ernst De Geer) – BFI London Film Festival

by | Oct 8, 2023

Certificate: TBC

Running Time: 98 mins

UK Distributor: TBC

UK Release Date: TBC

REVIEWED AT BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2023

WHO’S IN THE HYPNOSIS?

Asta Kamma August, Herbert Nordrum, Andrea Edwards, David Fukamachi Regnfors, Moa Nilsson, Simon Rajala, Aviva Wrede, Alexandra Zetterberg, Kristina Brändén Whitaker, Karin de Frumerie, Julien Combes

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Ernst De Geer (director, writer), Mads Stegger (writer), Mimmi Spång (producer), Peder Kjellsby (composer), Jonathan Bjerstedt (cinematographer), Robert Krantz (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A trip to a hypnotherapist transforms Vera’s (August) life, but not necessarily for the better…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE HYPNOSIS?

Scandinavian genre cinema has seen a prolific boost over the past few years, whether it’s Oscar-nominated Nordic comedies like Triangle of Sadness and The Worst Person in the World, or crowd-pleasing action flicks such as Netflix’s Norwegian monster movie Troll (recently given the greenlight for a sequel) and the recent Finnish revenge tale Sisu, or even some wildly out-there offerings like Iceland’s Lamb or Finland’s Hatching. Put simply, it’s a good time to be a Nordic filmmaker branching out into popular genre filmmaking.

It is a wave that Swedish filmmaker Ernst De Geer now wishes to ride with his new comedy The Hypnosis, a film that fits well alongside Kristoffer Borgli’s similarly satirical Sick of Myself as a biting and often uncomfortable stab at modern societal norms and behaviours. While its teeth perhaps aren’t as sharp as Borgli’s offering, there is still some fascinating stuff to chomp on with this film, which utilises its acidic sense of humour to convey an eccentric portrayal of petty relationship rivalry and underlying nastiness in our own true selves.

The film follows entrepreneurial couple Vera (Asta Kamma August) and André (Herbert Nordrum), who are preparing to attend a prestigious pitching workshop where they hope to get their business, an app that can tracks women’s health from across the world, off the ground. Vera, however, is rather timid in nature, allowing her more direct partner to call most of the shots, while she carefully rehearses their English-language pitch.

She initially decides to see a hypnotherapist (Karin de Frumerie) to tackle her resulting smoking problem, but after listening to Vera vent about her inner frustrations, the therapist decides that she needs extra help, so she conditions Vera to let go of her insecurities and embrace the person she’s truly meant to be. From thereon, Vera is like a completely different person: she’s confident, easy-going, playful, and unafraid to tell people what she really thinks. All of that, though, does not bode well for André, who grows more and more concerned that her newfound attitude will cost them the opportunity of their careers.

The intriguing angle that De Geer goes for with The Hypnosis is how, at first, Vera’s extroverted new self might not necessarily be the problem. It is made clear that next to her frank and honest diction during an initial pitch session, André comes off as far more robotic and less charismatic, with reserved body language that makes him nowhere near as appealing as his business and romantic partner, which ignites feelings of jealousy and male inadequacy within him.

It later causes him to commit actions that are, by all accounts, grounds for a speedy break-up between the two, both professionally and personally, all because he cannot seem to handle a woman being able to charm influential people more than he seems capable of doing. De Geer, quite subversively, frames the situation as a study of a relationship that is always on the verge of becoming fully one-sided, but is then forced into overdrive by petty egos and one-upmanship when one formerly submissive party suddenly finds new ways to assert themselves.

Often, the behaviour that both André and Vera make themselves known for within their eclectic new circles generates plenty of awkward laughs, many of them coming from how excruciatingly uncomfortable their interactions become. Vera, perhaps under the influence of her hypnosis, picks a fight with a potential investor after she “steps” on her imaginary dog; André fares no better as he struggles to worm his way into conversations with the workshop’s abrasive instructor, and gets into passive-aggressive morality contests with other pitchers over whether climate change matters more than their product.

The whole time, especially with André, you can feel their desperation in wanting to make a good impression – or, in the case of Vera, not caring one way or the other – which more often than not ends up having the complete opposite effect, a fact that De Geer and Mads Stegger’s script frequently drives home in its scathing portrayal of human mannerisms in scenarios where we want and need to be liked, only for things to turn out far worse than planned.

As a satire, it is definitely sharp and often pretty brutal, not to mention pretty uncomfortably funny a lot of the time, though in the wake of something a bit darker like Sick of Myself, which went to much further extremes, one wonders if there’s a part of The Hypnosis that’s holding it back. Not that anything overtly monstrous has to happen, but maybe if there was a bit more bite to it, or at least something that would be just as disturbing as in Sick of Myself, it might have been a bit more memorable.

As is, it’s an amusing, well-performed and smartly written comedy that’s acidic in many of the right spots, though don’t expect its edginess to fully entrance.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Hypnosis is an amusing Nordic satire about human behaviour, which filmmaker Ernst De Geer does well enough to convey the uncomfortable and often brutal mannerisms we are capable of exhibiting, though its lack of profound bite holds it back from reaching its full potential.

Three out of five stars

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