“Hypochondriac” Review – Mental Illness Through a Queer Horror Lens
Depictions of mental illness are common in movies, especially in the horror genre. They’ve become even more prevalent in recent years as filmmakers have used their work to help de-stigmatize mental illness, but these films also come with tropes we’ve seen many times before. Is our protagonist going mad? Or is there something supernatural haunting him? Or maybe there is another explanation for the hallucinations he is having (if they are even hallucinations). Hypochondriacscreenwriter/director Addison HeimannWill’s feature debut chooses to do away with one of the genre’s most common tropes: the unreliable narrator (there’s no doubt that Will is mentally ill). He also makes his film explicitly queer, adding an interesting twist to a genre that has been, for lack of a better term, done to death.
After a tense opening sequence in which his mentally ill mother (Marlene Forte, Knives out) tries to kill him, Hypochondriac 18-year advance to Will, now 30 (Zach Villa, American Horror Story: 94) who became a professional potter. His boss Blossom (Madeleine Zima, Californication, The Collector) is selfish and unprofessional, but he has a friend in his colleague Sasha (Yumarie Morales) and a supportive boyfriend to Luke (Devon Gray, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore). After receiving a phone call from his mother after 10 years of silence, Will begins to experience strange hallucinations of a man in a wolf costume, resulting in a work injury that causes him to begin to lose function in his arms. Afraid to walk down the same path as his mother nearly two decades ago, Will sets out on his own to figure out what’s going on with his body and mind.
Heimann released a statement with the film explaining that his goal was to “visually capture what it was like to have a mental breakdown”, since the film is based on one of his own. This makes Hypochondriac a particularly personal project for the writer/director, who had previously written and starred in shorts like 2019’s Fun Jeff drives you. Of course, this knowledge shouldn’t affect your opinion of the movie (any movie should be able to stand on its own), but it does add an extra layer to the proceedings that opens a window into an experience that many people don’t know about. . ‘t familiar with. In this department, he excels.
The film’s title comes from the multiple visits to the doctor that Will makes, in an attempt to get a diagnosis. At each visit, each medical “professional” frequents him and erases his worries, attributing his episodes to stress. Platitudes like “you’d be surprised how much the mind can affect the body” are offered and “helpful” advice like “never Google” is handed out. These sequences aim to poke a hole in the flawed medical system of the United States and again, Heimann succeeds.
The problem lies in the genre conventions, which become somewhat repetitive and not really innovative for this type of story. It’s refreshing that Heimann avoids the “is-he-or-isn’t-he-crazy?” aspect that tends to come with the territory, but without that kind of conflict there’s a distinct lack of narrative momentum propelling Hypochondriac cheeky. We get several examples of Will hallucinating the man in the wolf suit (indicate the Donnie Darko comparisons), embarrassing oneself in public, and then being told to ask for help. These scenes are interesting at first, but after the second or third time, they can get frustrating. Given Heimann’s statement, this East the desired effect, but that doesn’t always make for the most convincing watch. Telling stories about mental illness through a horror lens is nothing new, but it’s a rare case where switching back and forth between the two genres doesn’t always work because it’s those aspects of mental illness. horror that seem most mundane, adding a layer of monotony to the story.
But where Hypochondriac wavers in its gender elements, it succeeds in its human drama. The scenes Will shares with his father (Chris Doubek) and Luke, as they each offer their own unique way of offering help that Will refuses, are heartbreaking. It is in these moments that Heimann is most effective in conveying the emotional and physical toll that mental illness can take on loved ones. More importantly, he does so without ever losing sight of why Will is refusing their help. This leads to Will self-isolating, exacerbating his already worsening symptoms.
Hypochondriac is a solid, if not particularly innovative, addition to the mental health horror subgenre, with a weird twist thrown into the mix. It’s this weird component that adds something new to the tropes we’ve seen hundreds of times before (you’ll see a demon perform anilingus, so that’s fun) but it’s more of an interesting wrinkle in worn-out territory rather than a true subversion of genre tropes.
Hypochondriac had its world premiere at SXSW and will be released via XYZ Films on April 8, 2022.