[Overlook Film Festival] HYPOCHONDRIAC Review - A Personal Story of Vulnerability and Pain
Sarah Kirk says Hypochondriac is an emotionally tumultuous journey containing mental deterioration, self-discovery, and vulnerability.
Screened at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, Hypochondriac (2022) is a profoundly personal and creative indie horror film directed by Addison Heimann and based on his life. Heimann creates a story representing his unique experience dealing with a mental breakdown and what it feels like to split yourself open. Heimann says, “Horror has a way of highlighting and illuminating things that we deal with, whether it be mental health, trauma, or homophobia. It’s highlighted in a way that is entertaining, chaotic, weird, and crazy.” The film unpacks emotional trauma in detail.
Will (Zach Villa) has a wounded psyche from childhood trauma due to his distant father (Chris Doubek) and unstable mother (Marlene Forte). Hypochondriac is an emotionally tumultuous journey containing mental deterioration, self-discovery, vulnerability, and healing. Heimann constructs a film riddled with dread, childhood psychological conflict, and creative expression.
Will is a potter and a funny guy, a personality trait likely used as a coping mechanism. He maintains a distant relationship with his parents and begins to experience symptoms like brain fog, dizziness, pain, and hallucinations. His body is triggered by his mother’s paranoid voicemails, the packages she sends, and her invasion of his privacy. As the symptoms progress, he sees a physical manifestation of his trauma: a man in a wolf costume.
He sees numerous doctors and psychiatrists who repeat, “You would be shocked at how the mind can affect the body.” Symptoms worsen after taking shrooms on a getaway trip with his supportive boyfriend, Luke (Devon Graye). Will experiences visual hallucinations of the wolf, and auditory hallucinations of his mother, resulting in burning himself on a kiln at work. At the pre-climax of his breakdown, he travels to his childhood home, hoping to piece together past events. From then on, it’s a detailed depiction of Will’s emotional turmoil, revelation, and the path toward healing.
Hypochondriac reveals how childhood trauma can affect relationships and how it permeates every aspect of one’s life. Will’s physical and mental struggles originated from his inability to process and cope with past experiences. Heimann's expressive film depicts a journey of pain and self-realization. There are many overlapping and interwoven themes beyond just trauma. The story discusses mental health and vulnerability, not just with oneself but with others. Will's physical manifestation of trauma is a wolf costume, similar to the terrifying bunny costume in Donnie Darko (2001). It follows him, trying to make contact. Will realizes he cannot escape, and while the creature is frightening, it's necessary to tell the story. Trauma is complex and challenging to unpack, but Heimann successfully presents the complexities originally and sensitively. He structures the film consistently, looping back to piece together past events using flashbacks.
Dustin Supencheck generated immersive cinematography, amplifying the film’s already ultra-real quality. Shaky camera motions are present during heightened scenes, creating a nervous feeling. The most immersive aspects were during Will’s visit to his childhood home, as we see him move through the house and interact with the wolfman. The lighting is dark, and shallow focus camera work is seen as Will treads through the corners of the house, creating nerve-wracking suspense. High-angle shots follow Will as he looks for clues. The house is a heavy entity waiting to crash into Will’s mind. The cinematography contributed to the film’s alarming elements, making Hypochondriac enjoyable and unsettling.
The film is adrenalizing, and it makes you ask questions. Is Will’s experience with mental health due to genetics and generational trauma? What is real? Is everything an illusion? It’s a candid depiction of how one comes face to face with their inner demons. Hypochondriac is creative, earnest, and intelligent.