Everyone’s been in the situation where they start feeling a strange pain, stress gets the best of their mind, they start Googling and suddenly they’re convinced that they’re dying of cancer. “Bro,.. never Google,” warns one of the doctors in Hypochondriac.
But what if that line between reality and delusion gets more and more blurred and those fears might be true? That is the central tension of Hypochondriac, the directorial debut of Addison Heimann that we caught at this year’s Overlook Film Festival.
Hypochondriac is the type of film that will unsettle you while watching but will stick like an uncomfortable thought long after. Sure to bring many divided opinions, it should also be noted that with the realistic subject matter it covers, it also has the possibility of being extremely triggering and may be too much to handle for some people, especially self-described hypochondriacs.
But for those who are down to handle brutal realism, Hypochondriac offers a scary ride with spooky sequences and some disturbing gore.
A gay potter (Zach Villa) starts remembering traumatic events from his childhood while developing some bodily ailments, leading to a downward spiral of chaos.
Hypochondriac is reminiscent of films like Donnie Darko (perhaps a bit too much in some ways) and the more recent Horse Girl.
The portrayal of mental illness in this is uncomfortably real, which is both a pro and a con. This level of verisimilitude to the problems the main character is experiencing is one of the truest I’ve seen, however, it is so real that it almost makes me too uneasy, especially having witnessed situations very similar to those depicted in the film. The film ends up being a bit too on the nose for the subject it handles, but that’s hardly a detractor.
As for the queerness of this film, some might say that the central relationship between the main character and his new boyfriend, played by Devon Graye, is not necessary to the telling of this story, but I would highly disagree. Anyone in the LGBTQ+ community knows that the stress of being out of the straight sphere can be intense. In fact, people in the queer community are more than twice as likely to experience mental health problems.
Often, as Hypochondriac suggests, these problems stem from unprocessed childhood trauma that young people are too often left to unpack by themselves.
The director, a queer man himself, has stated that his “goal is to elevate and empower queer characters in the genre space where those stories are sorely lacking.” I would say he was entirely successful with his debut, with a tight and focused script that realistically portrays non-straight people (I mean, who doesn’t know a gay clay artist with mental illness?).
Beyond the story, the production is also very well done. The camera work has a clear direction and sometimes gets into some cool, creative and surreal mind-melding sequences showcasing the state of the main character’s mind.
Villa as an actor absolutely rocks his character, perfectly portraying the struggles in an entirely sympathetic way without vilifying or making light of his struggles.
There is even a hallucinatory tripping sequence with not only great camera work, but honest action as our lead is having a good time, but following a slightly concerning phone call, has his trip completely shift into fear and paranoia.
The sound design and the editing are excellent, find creative ways to communicate text conversations on the screen.
There are multiple genuinely frightening and unsettling sequences throughout this film. It’s an “enjoyable” watch for anyone, regardless of how they feel about mental health horror movies.
While the film starts off somewhat slow, it ramps up pretty quickly and near the end, does not hold back on some of the violence.
Hypochondriac reminds us of the loneliness of mental health problems and the frustration we can feel with the medical community sometimes, who don’t always have the answers or care that we hope they do.
Hypochondriac is one psychological horror fans won’t want to miss, and on July 29, it will be released theatrically and on VOD by XYZ Films, so watch out for that!