New to Blu-ray/DVD: The Great Hypnotist, Cherry Tree, & Stealing Cars


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Editor’s Notes: The Great Hypnotist, Cherry Tree, & Stealing Cars will be released on their respective formats on April 5th.

The Great Hypnotist

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The Great Hypnotist (Well Go USA) is a supernatural mystery thriller from China. Dr. Xu Ruining (Xu Zheng, who also directs) is a nationally renowned therapist skilled in hypnotherapy whose new patient, Ren Xiaoyan (Karen Mok), brings him a difficult problem. In this particular case, the struggle between doctor and patient isn’t as easy as Dr. Xu expected. Despite her thin, weak appearance, Ren Xiaoyan always reacts violently and unexpectedly in sessions with the doctor. He wonders what exactly makes her so belligerent and closed off from everyone.

Written by Leste Chen, The Great Hypnotist is a lush-looking picture reflecting its $8 million budget. A prologue channels familiar elements from Asian horror flicks and establishes a creepy atmosphere. These scenes illustrate methods Dr. Xu has developed for treating patients with guilt complexes, and an early anecdote about child trafficking suggests that people are not always who they seem.

Director Xu Zheng creates and sustains suspense as a hypnotized Ren Xiaoyan reveals her back story. Creative photography and effective special effects enhance the mood.

There are elements of Frankenstein, as when the doctor’s arrogance in curing his patients whatever the method creates friction with his former mentor. But it’s the one-on-one relationship between doctor and patient that drives the story. It’s fascinating to see how control becomes essential to both participants in therapy sessions, as each of them attempts to gain the upper hand. Much of the information that comes out in therapy is false, resulting in a series of red herrings that complicate figuring out what makes Ren Xiaoyan tick.

Though The Great Hypnotist is reminiscent of other movies, particularly The Sixth Sense and any number of films noir and cautionary tales in which doctors/scientists dare to experiment in forbidden areas, it is an above-average thriller.

The film is in Mandarin, with subtitles available in English and Chinese. There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD.

Cherry Tree

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Cherry Tree (Dark Sky Films) is the tale of a desperate young woman drawn into a world of inescapable horror. Faith (Naomi Battrick) is an unhappy teenager. Her father (Sam Hazeldine) is dying of leukemia, and she’s frequently bullied at school and overlooked by the opposite sex. Her new hockey coach, Sissy (Anna Walton), a local witch whose coven meets beneath the roots of a magic cherry tree, demands that Faith get impregnated on her 16th birthday and carry the baby to term.

The film recycles motifs from such films as Rosemary’s Baby, The Craft, The Witches of Eastwick and a smattering of Carrie tossed in for good measure. An overabundance of exposition bogs down the pace and overexploits the film’s fantastical elements. Because Faith is young, innocent, self-sacrificing, and a stranger to the occult, we’re supposed to forgive her for making the Faustian pact. However, the character is not adequately developed for us to buy into her plight.

Technically, Cherry Tree never achieves a professional look. Dialogue is stilted, pace is sluggish, acting pedestrian. Brendan McCarthy’s script supplies a few quick shocks, but David Keating’s direction seldom reflects imaginative choices. Fans of horror might enjoy some of the gory moments but will be disappointed by an overly familiar story that capitalizes on the success and originality of better movies.

There are no bonus features on the unrated Blu-ray release.

Stealing Cars

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Stealing Cars (Sony Home Entertainment) stars Emory Cohen (Brooklyn, The Place Beyond the Pines) as Billy Wyatt, a rebellious teenager sent to juvenile detention, where he encounters harsh injustice, stands up to his incarcerators, and discovers unexpected friendship. Billy has great promise, but a troubled past that includes dealing drugs and grand theft auto lands him in the Bernville Camp for Boys. Billy must rely on his survival skills to avoid dangerous inmates and a cruel, sadistic staff.

The movie attempts to expose the failures of the juvenile detention system in America. Like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Billy’s refusal to be beaten down by the system earns him the admiration and respect of some of the other detainees but causes him to be singled out as a troublemaker by the staff. Initially, it’s hard to believe that Billy is as intelligent as he’s portrayed despite his ability to quote from Camus and recite sections from Fahrenheit 451. As the film progresses, however, his back story is revealed, providing insight into why Billy took the path that led him to Bernville.

The film has a first-class supporting cast. William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman play Billy’s parents, John Leguizamo is a concerned counselor who may not be trustworthy, and Mike Epps portrays the local sheriff who offers some wise advice to Billy. Unfortunately, these roles are small and fail to take full advantage of the actors’ talents.

There are no bonus features on the R-rated widescreen DVD release.


About Author

For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.