Fans of elevated horror, rejoice! It’s time for another exploration of trauma and mental illness masquerading as a horror movie. Hypochondriac begins with a relatively tense opening sequence in which young Will narrowly avoids being murdered by his clearly insane mother. Fast forward to the present, where now-30-year-old Will (Zach Villa) has a quiet job making pottery, a nice BFF (Yumarie Morales), and a supportive boyfriend (Devon Graye). That happiness begins to crumble when, after years without contact, Will receives a voicemail from his estranged mother, which sends him spiraling down into his own psychosis.
First, the hallucinations start. Will sees a malevolent alter ego — a man dressed in a wolf costume with glowing eyes, something that can’t possibly be read as anything but a tremendously unproductive pull from Donnie Darko. Then, these visions lead to an on-the-job injury, after which Will starts to lose function in his arms. Repeated visits to doctors are met with platitudinous dismissals of Will’s health concerns, in addition to getting him labeled — you guessed it — a hypochondriac.
Writer/director Addison Heimann has stated that Hypochondriac is based on his own experiences with mental illness, and that he wanted to capture what it was like “to actually have a breakdown,” which is admirable in every sense. And indeed, it’s refreshing to have the issue of Will’s sanity never in question: he’s losing it, for sure. Unfortunately, the continued (and extremely repetitive) appearances of the wolfman only cause public scenes that embarrass Will further and test the audience’s patience. That the character’s frustration is both intentional and evident is obviously the project here, but it isn’t very interesting to sit through. Does Will’s queerness add something new? Alas, also, not particularly. Villa, who is in practically every scene, has to carry the drama forward while the narrative spins its wheels, and he does as good as he can with thin material. The thing is, Heimann’s clearly making exactly the movie he wants to make here, but it seems nobody bothered to check if there was anything new to say with it.
Published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 5.