The Hypnotist (Hypnotisören)
Sweden (2012) Dir. Lasse Hallström
If there was a multiple genocide case in the UK I can’t imagine Scotland Yard would engage the services of Paul McKenna or Derren Brown to help them solve the case as Detective Inspector Joona Linna does in his debut outing. Then again, the eponymous hypnotist is not your regular sideshow act either.
Inspector Linna (Tobias Zilliacus) is called to the home of a family who have been knifed to death, save for the teenage son Josef (Jonatan Bokman) who barely survived. With the only witness still in a state of shock and physically weak Linna is stuck for a way to get information to begin the investigation. A doctor at the hospital Daniella (Helena Af Sandeberg) offers a unique solution.
Linna is put in touch with disgraced hypnotherapist Erik Maria Bark (Mikael Persbrandt) in the hopes he can make subconscious contact with Josef. Bark succeeds in learning of the existence of a half sister living away from the family. While Linna now has a starting point, Bark’s sick son Benjamin (Oscar Pettersson) is kidnapped one night, with a message left behind warning him not to hypnotise Josef again.
Having spent 25 years making films in Hollywood and across Europe, Lasse Hallström returns to his native Sweden with this adaptation of the novel by Lars Kepler (a pen name for husband and wife writing team Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril). The book is the first in a series featuring Inspector Linna, although so far only this one film has been made, with an announced follow-up still in limbo.
Nordic Noir has become quite the phenomenon while Hallström was in Tinsel Town, and looking at his catalogue this film couldn’t be any different from what he made his name with in Hollywood. Yet, while you can take the man out of Scandinavia, you can’t take the Scandi out of the man, and in terms of style and mood, Hallström doesn’t betray the Nordic Noir template.
Whether Paolo Vacirca’s screenplay follows the original novel or not will only be known to those having read it, so while, taking this film at face value, it is a tightly wound thriller but not without some flaws. For instance, eagle eyed viewers will have spotted the potential culprit right early on, this person being blighted with a facial blemish that is a complete giveaway in suggesting their involvement.
Elsewhere the kidnapping of Benjamin is an example of something that is good in theory but doesn’t ring true in practise. A disguised stranger breaks into the Bark household at night and injects Bark’s wife Simone (Lena Olin) with a heavy sedative while she sleeps. Presumably this was to ensure Benjamin’s shouts wouldn’t awaken her but surely someone, even asleep, would feel the prick of the needle in their arm?
The intruder then does the same thing to Benjamin who does in fact up while being injected, and wouldn’t you know it, wakes up a dazed Simone as well, who manages to crawl out of the bedroom but not far enough to save her son. Meanwhile Bark himself, who has insomnia, is zonked out on sleeping tablets and misses the whole ordeal.
It plays out as nice piece of dramatic tension but the logic of it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, a pervasive feeling towards the many plot developments which sprout from this one seemingly simple situation. Perhaps it makes more sense in the novels, but two hours is not enough to explore all of the nuances I assume are present in Kepler’s writings.
Yet, this two-hour run time is paradoxically to long and there are many moments where time seems to stand still for no reason. What really stands out as the biggest flaw is the lack of character development of Linna himself. As the central protagonist his personal life and background is given almost no exploration which is afforded to the Bark family instead.
We learn why Bark was disgraced as a hypnotherapist and that he had an affair with Daniella which Simone can’t forgive him for, blaming him for Benjamin’s disappearance and accusing him of taking the job in the first place since it was Daniella who made the call to Bark to help with Linna’s investigation. All we know about Linna is that he isn’t married.
Josef and his murdered family are also a complex bunch as demonstrated by an early twist involving a half-sister who lives away from the others thus is unharmed, but could be next. Then again, maybe she was unharmed because she was involved? Again, it is not that simple but while it provides a congruent distraction, it is an early sign the plot is about to trip over itself.
Technically the presentation is very proficient and fits in well within the milieu of bleak Scandi-drama, and while Hallström is not a bad director, on this evidence he isn’t an instinctive crime director. That said, the final act contains an edge-of-the-seat tense life or death situation, superbly laid out and rife with the requisite frantic terror to draw us into the gravity of the dilemma for a rousing climax.
Hallström cast his wife Lena Olin as Simone who delivers the strongest performance, which is either a coincidence or a testament of Olin’s abilities, but she at least goes deep into herself to make Simone’s suffering palpable and raw. Mikael Persbrandt is the maverick cop in the TV show Beck, leaving his tough guy credential aside to make Bark a credible conflicted soul. But with little to work with, Tobias Zilliacus is utterly forgetful as Linna.
Ultimately the good is enough to outweigh the bad in The Hypnotist and is a perfectly serviceable and quite gripping slice of Nordic Noir. Yet it might be better served as a six part TV series to fully flesh out the characters and iron out the cavils in the dense plotting.