‘Hypochondriac’ Review: A Mother of All Breakdowns

In the psychological thriller “Hypochondriac,” life and all its horrors begin with Mother. When the film’s protagonist, Will (played as a child by Ian Inigo), was young, his mother (Marlene Forte) suffered from psychosis. Her illness manifested in intense, violent spells. She would scream and hurt herself. One of Will’s most indelible memories is of his mother strangling him as a boy.

Eighteen years later, Will (Zach Villa) seems to have built a life that’s more peaceful than his childhood. He works as a ceramist, and he has a loving boyfriend, Luke (Devon Graye), who is eager to introduce Will to his family. But Will’s stability begins to crack when his estranged mother re-initiates contact. She sends him boxes of discarded DVD cases and scattered, disturbed voice messages warning him away from Luke. Will is haunted by fear that his mother will infect the rest of his life, that he could become like her. But his fear kicks into paranoia when he begins having visions of a monstrous wolf man, a distorted memory of a childhood costume.

The writer and director, Addison Heimann, flirts with horror elements in portraying this story of a mother and son’s mania. Will’s wolfish spectre is executed with practical effects, dripping with blood and matted fur. The bloody consequences of distorted thinking are portrayed vividly, with surgical veracity. But if the film is sure-footed when it comes to stylishly portraying boogeymen, it’s less certain in its portrait of people who experience symptoms of psychosis. The movie links cinematic thrill with real illness, tying movie monstrosity to specific psychiatric symptoms. Its armchair psychology makes for queasy viewing, a conflation of diagnosis and damnation.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.

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