Hypochondriac Image

Hypochondriac

By Bobby LePire | March 18, 2022

SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Hypochondriac is “based on a real breakdown.” Whether that was at the hands of writer/director Addison Heimann, one of his family members, or a good friend, and he witnessed it all, I do not know. What is known is that the filmmaker has crafted a thoroughly intense look at how mental illness can harm our loved ones and us no matter our best intentions.

Will (Zach Villa) did not have the best upbringing. Instability and violence were introduced to him at a young age due to his mother’s mental health issues. Many years after the last time he had any contact with his mother (Marlene Forte), Will is now a potter and lives with his loving boyfriend, Luke (Devon Graye). Luke believes Will’s mom is dead, but that is thrown into question when Will receives voicemails and packages from her dictating how he should conduct his life.

These messages, from someone who may or may not be alive, send Will to the brink of madness, and he breaks up with a devastated Luke. Unfortunately, this cuts the young man off from any sort of support structure, as Will’s dad (Chris Doubek) is always stoic and emotionless, with no idea how to relate to his son. Compounding all this are visions Will has of a person (sometimes an adult, others a child) in a wolf costume, urging him to self-harm.

Hypochondriac has one huge, confusing issue that takes a bit to understand fully. See, Luke directly states that Will’s mom is dead. So, when the voicemail messages and packages start arriving, it is easy to presume that is the start of his psychosis, as she’s passed on. It takes well over halfway to realize that she isn’t dead, but Will’s trauma runs so deep that it was easier for him to claim that than face what she did to him directly. This significantly impacts the narrative, as parts come across as jumbled due to the belief that she’s dead. However, it is easy to imagine that this flaw would no longer be present upon rewatching this dramatic horror tale. Just know that your first viewing won’t be as clear as is intended.

“…messages, from someone who may or may not be alive, send Will to the brink of madness…”

Luckily, Heimann has several tricks up his sleeve to engage and frighten everyone watching. First, there’s the knock-out sound design. Several scenes become enthralling and feel larger than they might otherwise because Steven Avila and his sound production team carefully combine each element. For example, to try and clear his head, Will begins on a new piece, and as the clay wheel turns, the score gets ever louder until it drops out, and all that can be heard is the sound of the wolf person’s breathing. It is very eerie and unsettling.

Hypochondriac also has stellar cinematography and editing. That sequence just referenced is edited to heighten both the emotions of the lead character and the foreboding atmosphere, as Will, and viewers, are uncertain of what is about to happen. The entire movie is visually dynamic and amps up the scares in all the right ways.

Villa and Graye are terrific throughout. In fact, Graye’s presence is missed for a significant portion after the characters’ surprise break up. But, when the two are together, the screen lights up. On his own, Villa is just as good, ably transitioning from flighty and fun to scared and unhinged while remaining relatable and likable.

Hypochondriac is a visually pleasing, scary film with amazing sound design and excellent acting. The narrative is bewildering during one’s initial viewing, but the themes remain relevant and intense. Heimann’s feature-length debut might be flawed, but it still heralds the coming of a socially conscious, talented director who clearly has big things in store.

Hypochondriac screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

Hypochondriac (2022)

Directed and Written: Addison Heimann

Starring: Zach Villa, Devon Graye, Marlene Forte, Chris Doubek, Madeline Zima, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Hypochondriac Image

"…stellar cinematography and editing."

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