FrightFest review – Hypochondriac
‘Based on a real breakdown,’ announces a caption at the beginning of writer-director Addison Heimann’s sincerely painful, and painfully sincere drama of hereditary mental illness – or perhaps it’s an indictment of a larger world, as represented by vividly sketched cartoons of cheerfully unhelpful assholes, that would drive pretty much anyone to hallucinate visits from a shaggy-suited, wolf-masked imaginary avatar.
Will (Zach Villa), a Los Angeles potter, has survived a rough childhood with a bipolar, conspiracy-espousing Puerto Rican mother (Marlene Forte) and an uptight distant rich white Dad (Chris Doubek) and seems to have a shot at normality with a chef boyfriend Luke (Devon Graye). Then, Will starts receiving boxes of stuff from his long-out-of-touch Mom – a stack of empty DVD cases she doesn’t want around her mansion (I spotted vampire movie The Breed in there) – and then voicemails from her, which try to turn him against Luke. Or is her Harry Kellermaning himself and imagining the messages – he’s told Luke his mother is dead. As the title suggests, he has health issues which may also be illusory – fainting spells, arm pain, hallucination (‘don’t google,’ he’s told by several professionals) – and goes for a raft of tests with blithely unconcerned folks who insist on repeating a platitude about how shocked he would be to know how much the mind could affect the body.
Some critics have asked why someone with all this going on would opt to do shrooms on a weekend cabin in the wood break with his BF, but that struck me as entirely likely within the spectrum of his behaviour – just as he self-harms with a knife to fulfil the prophecy of his perhaps psychosomatic arm pain, he brings on a near-psychotic breakdown chemically … and the next act of the film is a tough watch, crawling inside the protagonist’s mind as it falls apart. Villa is astonishingly good as someone you sympathise with – even his dickhead Dad genuinely tries to help him (needling him into a #metoo argument really does jolt him out of his pain spiral) and Luke keeps coming back tactfully and gently no matter how often blaring warning signs go off, climaxing in an explicit, unusual gay sex scene that takes a turn into Basic Instinct on Mescalin territory.
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