'Hypochondriac' Movie Review [SXSW 2022]: The LGBTQ 'Donnie Darko'

Low-budget independent filmmaking brings opportunities for characters and narratives that don’t get attention from the Hollywood majors. Writer/director Addison Heimann certainly brings authenticity to this piece of LGBTQ horror moviemaking, but it lacks the thrills and chills required to make it impactful.

‘Hypochondriac’ is a psychological horror/thriller about mental health

Will (Zach Villa) is a young Hispanic gay man who works in an expensive pottery shop. His boss is terrible, but he enjoys spending time with his boyfriend named Luke (Devon Graye). However, Will has a dark family history that he refuses to share with others. He hasn’t communicated with his mother (Marlene Forte) with bipolar disorder in 10 years, but she’s about to make a dramatic entrance back into his life.

Hypochondriac finds Will suddenly starting to experience strange symptoms. He begins to lose function in his arms and he keeps seeing a horrifying stranger dressed in a wolf costume. Will questions who he can really trust, as he begins to unravel a mystery that connects back to his disturbing childhood that he’d rather forget.

Writer/director Addison Heimann brings mind games to body horror

Hypochondriac begins by showing the audience a terrifying moment from Will’s past involving his mother. She once tried to kill him, which is a moment that understandably sticks with him through adulthood. Will goes on to work in a high-end pottery shop with a small team. His boss may be insufferable, but he seems to enjoy the work itself. His life with Luke is stable and satisfying. However, it’s simply the calm before the storm.

Heimann’s screenplay establishes Will as a caring, albeit closed-off man. He helps one of his co-workers with her panic attack, managing to calm her down. However, Will truly starts to think something is wrong with him when his sudden symptoms trigger hallucinations. Medical professionals simply repeat how it’s likely stress – it’s surprising how the mind can affect the body.

Hypochondriac places Will’s emotional trauma under the microscope. Heimann never makes the audience entirely aware of everything that the protagonist went through, but it’s clear that it’s all bubbling to the surface. The boxes that his mother keeps sending in the mail are increasingly alarming. Meanwhile, his father is emotionally distant and unsupportive. As a result, Will’s symptoms only continue to worsen.

‘Hypochondriac’ is an LGBTQ ‘Donnie Darko’ knockoff

Heimann’s feature film is strikingly reminiscent of Donnie Darko, but with a more violent edge to it. Even the wolf-costumed man is similar to Frank, who wears a monstrous bunny costume. However, Hypochondriac‘s budget is particularly felt through the sequences of Will’s hallucinations. It occasionally inspires unintentional laughs.

There is an assortment of motifs that flow through the movie. Perhaps one of the most obvious ones is a winking dog poster, which seems to constantly appear wherever Will goes. Hypochondriac presents mysteries, although the purpose isn’t to shock with an unexpected twist. Rather, they drag the audience down the rabbit hole of Will’s visions, which twist into some wonderfully disturbing body horror.

Hypochondriac should be applauded for its transparent LGBTQ horror storytelling and the most authentic gay sex sequence in recent American filmmaking. It’s clear that Heimann has an intriguing vision as a director, although the screenplay leaves something to be desired. Hypochondriac goes down a Donnie Darko-reminiscent rabbit hole that doesn’t land anywhere particularly unique.

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