April 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 43°F


Review: Director blends reality and surrealism in thriller film

“Trance” begins with Simon Newton (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer, speaking to the audience: “No piece of art is worth a human life.” He repeats that phrase a couple times, making it seem like prophetic advice.

Simon is at Delancy, his London auction house, selling Francisco Goya’s painting “Witches in the Air.” That’s when the robbers strike. As smoke floods Delancy’s auditorium, Simon grabs “Witches in the Air” from its easel and puts the canvas in a black bag, carrying it to a safety chute. That’s when the crime boss, Franck (Vincent Cassel), hits Simon on the head and steals the bag, but the painting is not inside it.

After they are unable to find the painting, Franck and his goons ransack Simon’s apartment and confront him, but Simon says he can’t remember where it is. Franck orders him to go under hypnotherapy to remember, which is when Simon meets hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson).

Director Danny Boyle, known for directing “Trainspotting” and “28 Days Later,” creates another psychological masterpiece. Boyle’s direction, along with Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s script, leads audiences down mesmerizing twists and turns.

As Simon undergoes Elizabeth’s hypnosis, it’s hard to keep track of what are dream sequences and what is reality. The hypnosis sequences are filled with surrealism, but the script carries an edge of lunacy, making the crazy believable. For example, in a guided hypnosis session, Elizabeth tells Simon that he’s receiving a package. In that package are his memories of that night. As he’s ripping the box open and tearing through white gift-wrap, the tips of his fingers bleed. In the presumably real life sequence that preceded it, Franck and his cronies stand over Simon, prying off his fingernails with a knife.

Boyle succeeds in crafting an engaging narrative, making “Trance” as hypnotic as its namesake. As one tries to unravel the mystery of the missing painting, one submerges deeper and deeper into the plot until it’s hard to detangle the hypnotic dream state from reality.

Stars: 4

James McAvoy stars in “Trance,” a psychological thriller crafted by director Danny Boyle.