Though it marks Lasse Hallstrom’s return to Swedish filmmaking after 25 years of English-language features, gruesome thriller “The Hypnotist” feels like a rather awkward fit for the director of schmaltzy, heartfelt fare such as “Chocolat” and “Dear John.” Generic-looking adaptation of Lars Kepler’s bestseller stars Tobias Zilliacus and Mikael Persbrandt as a cop and the titular protag, respectively, who attempt to solve a multiple homicide in convoluted fashion. Already out in Scandinavia, where it’s doing respectable but not record-breaking biz, Sweden’s foreign-language Oscar submission is still looking for a U.S. distributor.
Awkward teen Josef (Jonatan Bokman) is the miraculous survivor of a massacre that took the lives of his father, mother and sister (an older half-sister, living elsewhere, apparently wasn’t one of the targets). Because he’s in a total shock and has lost a lot of blood from countless stab wounds, Josef can’t be questioned.
This leads weary-looking judicial police officer Joona Linna (Finnish-born thesp Zilliacus) to resignedly contact a disgraced hypnotherapist, Erik Maria Bark (Persbrandt), in the hope that he might be able to make contact with Josef and help Linna make some progress on the case, which looks like an amateurish hack job despite the lack of any DNA evidence or fingerprint traces.
The setup closely follows the novel written by Kepler, the nom de plume of husband-and-wife duo Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril (he also wrote “The Director,” about Bergman’s shoot of “Winter Light”). As with Stieg Larsson’s popular “Millennium” trilogy, what at first seems a small, singular case opens something of a trapdoor to a much larger maze of events set in the past and present. Yet the screenplay by Paolo Vacirca (whose only previous solo writing credit was on 2005 direct-to-vid title “The Secret”) seems unaware of this double-fan-like structure, more often than not obscuring rather than facilitating an understanding of how things are connected.
The script also lacks a coherent tone or clear purpose, splicing in a scare here, trying a little character development there — notably with the exploration of Bark’s family (Hallstrom’s actress wife, Lena Olin, plays Bark’s spouse), though there’s no look at Linna’s private life to balance things out. What finally drives the narrative along is the murder mystery, which is finally resolved in a long, very talky stretch that is pretty much the opposite of “show, don’t tell.”
What Hallstrom brings to the table is a solid direction of the actors and several gorgeous, high-angle shots that firmly place the story in its Swedish context, particularly Stockholm. But his work with rookie feature cinematographer Mattias Montero is otherwise just OK, allowing a lot of light into the lens and often flattening the picture, with a subsequent loss of detail in the darker areas. Editing by Thomas Tang and Sebastian Amundsen is uneven at best; the rapid, disorientating cuts used to signify flashbacks or visions stand in jarring contrast to the otherwise unenergetic approach to the material. Score is serviceable but pretty character-free.
Though he stands out here only due to of his conspicuous lack of personality, Linna will be back in 2014’s “The Paganini Contract,” helmed by Kjell Sundvall. At least there’s room for improvement.