Overlook Film Festival Review – Hypochondriac (2022)

Vivacious young potter Will appears to be living his best life. He has a sought-after job, cool friends, and a loving boyfriend Luke. However, a past trauma he has worked hard to bury is about to claw its way back to the surface. Ravaged by the unrelenting loneliness and reality-bending confusion of acute mental illness his happiness crashes down around him and his mind clicks the deadlocks on a nightmarish prison.

An early title card in Hypochondriac informs us that what we are about to witness is “Based on a real breakdown“. What follows is a painfully intimate visualisation of director Addison Heimann’s own disturbing brush with mental illness.

His mother’s bipolar affected him greatly exacerbating his OCD into a terrifying health anxiety episode that left him convinced he was not long for this world. His sometimes funny, often explicit, and always bravely honest movie is a blow-by-blow account of what it feels like to be shoved off the fragile precipice of mental stability.

It’s all here in Will’s rapidly deteriorating world. Deep-seated nausea, unsettling limb tingling, disorientating dizzy spells, fractured relationships, and rampant paranoia. Most worrying of all, and depicted with scathing precision, is the catch-22 clusterfuck that is the medical profession’s blanket blaming attitude towards anxiety. He is told on multiple occasions that he would be surprised how the mind can affect the body when clearly he totally fucking wouldn’t.

On top of being stranded in the no man’s land of diagnosis ambiguity, his mother, who tried to choke the life out of him when he was a child, has begun to gaslight him with passive-aggressive phone messages and packages. The frustrating conundrum of whether Will’s anxiety causes his symptoms or vice versa becomes the least of his problems as this unwanted contact proves the potent catalyst that sends his breakdown into heartbreaking freefall.

Far too often the traumas of mental illness are embarrassingly oversimplified by the horror genre. Cynically deployed as a convenient segway for slaughter or a lazy plug for leaking plotholes. Conversely, Hypochondriac lays a foundation of realism and empathy before injecting horror tropes into the mix.

Naturalistic acting and believable character decisions provide a relatable sympathetic canvas upon which to project the harrowing imagery and splash the blood.

Although the realist approach, including the only onscreen use of a bidet I can recall, is dominant that does not mean things don’t get pretty gnarly at times. There is some heavy gore and kick-ass jump scares as well as psychedelic headfuckery and graphically lustful sex. In particular, an interrupted rimming sequence is sure to leave Donnie Darko fans in need of therapy. A sentence I am highly unlikely to ever write again.

Hypochondriac can be a little jarring at times. Its thematic swerves, narrative curve balls and cinematic icon pillaging run the risk of derailing the serious issues it strives to address. Wait until you catch a load of the deliriously hilarious Ghost parody!

However, it could easily be counterargued that the very condition it seeks to throw light on is by nature unpredictable, quirky, and reliant on familiar images to mimic as paranoid manifestations.

The committed cast is clearly on board with the director’s quest for personal catharsis and reclamation of mental breakdown as a narrative conduit. Their performances remain tonally consistent even when the film does not.

Much rests upon the shoulders of the disgustingly over-talented Zach Villa‘s portrayal of Will. Actor, musician, vocalist, dancer & songwriter he has worked with Evan Rachel Wood, Terrence Howard, Nicole Kidman, Rob Fusari, and the legendary David Byrne. The fact he appears in such an intimate indie production is astonishing.

He is, of course sensational. Always respectful to the subject matter he sparkles with a sexy charm that belies the residual torment of this complex character. Admittedly, he has a fine screenplay to draw from but it’s the best acting treatment of mental brutalisation since Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream. And she was robbed of an Oscar.

Hypochondriac is an extremely contextual film experience. By that I mean how much you connect with it will depend entirely on your own exposure to mental illness. Some will glance impassively at what they perceive to be a confused and messy self-indulgent melodrama. For others, it will be a long gut-churning stare into a smashed mirror.

Either way, it is a fearless no fucks given flick from the heart that educates and enlightens as much as it shocks and smothers.

★★★★

Mental Health Horror, Break Down Drama | USA | 2022 | 96 mins | Not Yet Rated | XYZ Films | Overlook Film Festival | Dir. Addison Heimann | Cast: Zach Villa, Devon Graye, Madeline Zima, Yumarie Morales, Marlene Forte, Chris Doubek