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[SXSW ’22] ‘Hypochondriac’ review: Unsettling look into a breakdown

Deeply personal horrors.

Hypochondriac is the second film I’ve seen at SXSW this year that may have borrowed a bit from Donnie Darko — Linoleum with the rocket launching right into a house, and Hypochondriac with man-in-a-wolf-suit, questioning reality, and exploration of schizophrenia. 14 year old me is very glad to see that watching Donnie Darko no less than twenty times with my friends back in 2002 proved to be a good decision, and I’m also glad to see how director/writer Addison Heimann of Hypochondriac managed to evolve so many of the themes from the 2001 film into a film that resonates with a more adult experience.

Hypochondriac is about a young Hispanic gay man, Will, who experienced a volatile childhood due to his mother’s mental illness. He works as a potter now, and he hasn’t spoken to his mother in 10 years. In fact, his boyfriend is under the impression that Will’s mother is dead. Will is kind and helpful to those around him. When Will’s mother contacts him again, he’s much more affected than he wants to let on. She leaves him voicemails full of ominous warnings, which he tries his best to ignore.

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It isn’t long before Will has to face the effect his mother’s return is having on him. He repeatedly injures himself, unintentionally and intentionally, in ways that become more severe as his mental health declines. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know how scary it can be to know that your mental state is deteriorating; to feel like you are completely losing control. If you’ve never experienced it, I can only assume it is just as terrifying to witness a breakdown of this magnitude happen to someone you care about. Hypochondriac captures the true horror of the situation through expert cinematography and relatable characters.

It’s Will’s likeability and how the camera gets inside of his head that make Hypochondriac so effective and so disturbing. As the film progresses, it goes further into horror — and body horror — territory. The transition never feels abrupt, as from the beginning of the film we’ve been given shattered glances into Will’s psyche. Zach Villa embodies Will with a casualness, a denial of what is happening, that reads as authentic. You might think that if this was happening to you, you’d be freaked out, disturbed, but isn’t there just as much of a chance that you’d keep a placid face on as you try to convince yourself that everything is fine?

The best films about mental illness come from those who have experienced it.

Will’s boyfriend, Luke (Devon Graye) is also very likeable. The two have been together for less than a year, but it’s clear that they genuinely care about each other, and that Will doesn’t exactly know what to do with this. In trying to help Luke relax, the two decide to spend a weekend up in a cabin — the doctor ordered rest. The two exchange “I love you”s and some very sweet scenes, before taking some mushrooms together. I was just about yelling at this screen at this point, knowing that things would likely take a turn for the worse for Will after this.

The best films about mental illness come from those who’ve experienced it, and the beginning of the film lets us know that Hypochondriac is, indeed, based on a real breakdown.  There are many comic moments throughout the film, such as when Will first decides he needs to see a doctor (Adam Busch), who says “bro” more than once and who is maybe just a bit too chill. These moments help to heighten the intensity that will come later in the film; lull you into a sense of safety. Hypochondriac is not a horror-comedy, despite moments of levity and laughs. Your anxiety will increase right alongside Will’s as you both begin to realize what is happening to him.

Hypochondriac grips you besides Will into his descent and doesn’t let go until the very end. As the film dives into horror, it becomes genuinely scary. Will’s hallucinations and intrusive thoughts become more and more real, as they clearly become more real to him as well. It’s a genuinely heartfelt, personal, and frightening film.

Hypochondriac made its World Premiere in the Midnighters section of SXSW 2022

hypochondriac
[SXSW ’22] ‘Hypochondriac’ review: Unsettling look into a breakdown
Hypochondriac
'Hypochondriac' is a deeply personal and disturbing film about a man's descent into mental illness.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Not exactly subtle, but never over-the-top.
Just enough moments of comedy.
Great performances and likeable/believable characters.
The queer horror we need.
Orange cat.
10
Fantastic

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