Frightfest: Hypochondriac (2022)

Director: Addison Heimann

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Starring: Zach Villa, Devon Graye, Madeline Zima, Yumarie Morales, Marlene Forte, Chris Doubek, Paget Brewster, Adam Busch, Michael Cassidy, Peter Mensah, Debra Wilson, Ian Inigo

Two attention-grabbing things open this film: On-screen text which reads "Based on a real breakdown", and video footage of somebody howling in a wolf mask. This startling combination hints at the internal terror contained within the film, before transitioning into a boy awakening to the sound of something smashing. As he wanders down the hallway to investigate, faint howling is heard outside before the boy's on-edge mother (Marlene Forte) whisks them away. As an adult, Will (Zach Villa) has a stable life with a loving boyfriend and a job as a potter. His world stands still when his bipolar mother reappears, causing Will's life to unravel as he becomes full of stress and worry.

For his feature debut, writer/director Addison Heimann reworks the werewolf mythology around one man grappling with trauma. The beast trying to break free is less supernatural than a lycanthrope, yet the fears are rooted in an unfathomable change leaving Will fearful of hurting those he loves, while body horror elements play on the usual visual transformation. He worries about following in his mother's footsteps while dealing with past hurt, and Villa exceptionally conveys the character's psychiatric struggle.

Despite being repeatedly told he must rest, Will never gets the chance to do so as things continue to go wrong. When he tries getting time of work, the manager bluntly shares that Will would just be replaced in the role, while his unwillingness to share causes a strain on his lovingly depicted eight-month relationship. His last remaining family-member is his father, coldly dismissing his son's pleas for help and unhelpfully joking about committing him. Amidst this engrossing yet depressing onslaught is a welcome moment of levity, as Will googles his symptoms resulting in leaps to worst-case scenarios.

Heimann brings an impressive directorial style to this film, as visual flourishes deliver style and vividly realized nightmares to this inner terror. Paired with a creepy tone and effective sound design, the horror is successfully sold while not being the full-stop on this tale. Throughout Will's ordeal lies a hopeful message about how mental illness is not the end and, despite tough times, things can get better.

Hypochondriac made its UK Premiere at Frightfest 2022