Hypochondriac is a slow-building psychological horror in which a clay potter is haunted by the physical manifestation of his childhood trauma. Whatever expectations you may have about its tone or intent based off that description and the nonstop flood of self-serious Trauma Horror that’s followed in the years since Hereditary is likely off-base. To start, the metaphorical Trauma Monster is represented onscreen by a low-rent Halloween-costume wolf, falling somewhere halfway between the Donnie Darko bunny & The Babadook. Furthermore, the monster wolfs ass. Hypochondriac is an irreverent, queer, oddly erotic approach to mental breakdown psych-horror. It never fully tips into horror comedy territory, but it constantly prods the audience to laugh for much-needed tension relief. More atmospheric horror films about Trauma & Grief would do well learning from its levity.
We meet the adult version of our potter-in-crisis dancing to Jessie J while working a shift at the LA hipster pottery boutique that pays his bills. He appears relatively happy & well-adjusted considering the violent childhood clashes with his schizophrenic mother that creep up in sporadic flashback. He’s employed, romantically paired, stable. That is, until a single phone call from his estranged mother’s cell sends him spiraling – losing his mind, the function of his hands, and every relationship he’s built as an independent adult in his freaked-out moments of dissociation. The Donnie Darko-inspired Trauma Wolf who appears during these episodes doesn’t physically attack him, exactly, but it scares him enough that he hurts himself. His unresolved, unsafe relationship with his mentally ill mother (and his own loosening grip on reality) is the real villain of the story, and the wolf mostly show up as its mascot. When they touch, it’s more often to make out than it is to tear each other apart.
Hypochondriac is more charming than it is thrilling or scary, but it does have plenty of charm. From its flashes of heartfelt romantic tenderness to its ZAZ-level parody of the pottery wheel scene from Ghost, the movie is a constant surprise in a way that few Trauma Metaphor horror films have been in recent years. It has its own unique visual language in a way you wouldn’t expect from such a low-budget effort, framing most of its action through the fish-eye lenses and high-angle pans of security cameras but breaking off into kaleidoscopic mirrors in the most intense moments of dissociation. Director Addison Heimann is brimming with D.I.Y. ambition here, and judging by the “Based on a real breakdown” title card that kicks this off, it’s all coming from such a personal place that it’s easy to root for him. I can’t say his debut feature is a knockout, but he has my full heart and attention.