Former Harry Potter actress and current feminist superheroine Emma Watson is once again reminding fans that she's no longer a kid anymore, starring in her most adult film to date. Watson's film, Regression , takes place in small town Minnesota in the year 1990. Watson portrays 17-year-old Angela Gray, who claims she was sexually abused by her father as a child. Her dad (David Dencik) then confesses to the crime, even though he can't remember committing it. Angela then reveals, under hypnotic regression therapy, that her father's abuse was part of widespread satanic ritual abuse, leaving Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) to discover the truth of what really happened. Like I said, pretty adult, but is Regression based on a true story?
Not exactly. The film is a work of fiction, written by its director, Alejandro Amenábar. And although Amenábar was not influenced by any one particular case, he was inspired to write the movie based on his research into two subjects that come together in Regression : America's satanic ritual abuse panic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the science of repressed memories and hypnotic regression therapy. These two seemingly disparate topics fit together perfectly in the movie, but they were actually first linked to each other in a book in 1980.
Satanic ritual abuse, sometimes referred to as SRA, is the supposed widespread sexual and physical abuse conducted on innocents, often children, by devil-worshipping cults. Meanwhile, hypnotic regression therapy is a controversial technique where, while under hypnosis, patients are said to be able to remember traumatic events that have happened in their past, the memories of which they have repressed. The first account of hypnotic regression being used to uncover supposed memories of SRA was in the book Michelle Remembers .
The book details the supposed repressed memories of Michelle Smith, who under hypnosis by therapist Lawrence Pazder, claimed to have been a victim of SAR committed by her mother, whom she contends was a member of a Satanic cult, when she was five years old. The book was highly controversial in science circles and most agree its content has been discredited, but it was a media sensation that made minor celebrities out of Smith and Pazder, culminating in a memorable appearance for the pair on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1989 to speak of the alleged abuse.
Smith and Pazder perpetuated the eventual media frenzy over SAR that took place in the 1980s and early 1990s, with Pazder supposedly consulting on over 1,000 SAR cases by 1990. One of the most notable was the McMartin Preschool case, which began in 1983. That case, on which both Smith and Pazder were consulted, alleged that a preschool in California was run by a Satanic cult that was ritually abusing the children enrolled there in underground tunnels. After six years, no convictions were made in the case, but its heavy media coverage made sure that SAR remained a hot topic throughout the decade.
Eventually, due to lack of proof that there were roving Satanic cults wandering the country and molesting children, the epidemic went away by the late nineties. Looking back, it's hard to believe that there really was essentially a nationwide Salem witch trial that took place in my lifetime, but Regression is here to remind me that it in 1990 America, the threat of SAR seemed very real indeed.
Images: TWC-Dimension; Pocket Books; jvh1988/Tumblr