Repression review – mind games get bogged down in big ideas

Ellen E Jones
·2-min read

Therapist Dr Marianne Winter (Thekla Reuten) hopes to escape her own traumatic past in upstate New York by taking up a position treating troubled children in a remote Scottish town. However, the forbidding Victorian municipal building that houses her new consulting room offers no sanctuary, and she’s soon unsettled by a 10-year-old patient (Elijah Wolf), who claims he can control her actions with his thoughts.

Repression (previously entitled Marionette) gamely endeavours to live up to the Hitchcockian promise of its title. It started out as a Dutch-language short by director Elbert van Strien 27 years ago, and here he knowingly utilises all the gothic potential of a new setting. As one visitor to Marianne’s rooms remarks: “Isn’t it a bit depressing? All this panelling, rip that out. You know what you need? Some nice bright white walls, little bit of uplighting.”

Van Strien is ably assisted by a top-drawer supporting cast. Peter Mullan plays Marianne’s troubled predecessor, Rebecca Front is her hint-dropping colleague (enjoyable shades of Mrs Danvers), and Bill Paterson is perfectly cast as the practice’s benignly befuddled team leader.

Such atmospherics can be a film entire. It’s a shame Repression instead gets bogged down by its big themes, which revolve around a series of undergrad philosophy questions such as, “Does the process of observing reality change nature?”, “Are thoughts like self-fulfilling prophecies?” and “Was there ever really a cat in Schrödinger’s box?” These are all inelegantly spelled out during meetings of Marianne’s book group, which take place in the back room of a pub (more wood panelling). A third-act plot twist is audacious enough to regain our attention, but Reuten and Wolf don’t quite have the charisma necessary to fully carry it off.

• Repression is available on digital platforms from 28 September.