Hypnotic Work-In-Progress Cut: What Are Robert Rodriguez And Ben Affleck Up To? [SXSW 2023]

Director Robert Rodriguez is an absolute legend in Austin, Texas, famous as the man who helped make the town a haven for filmmakers three decades ago. After all, this is the guy who shot his first movie, "El Mariachi," for around $7,000. Now, 30 years later, Rodriguez decided to bring his latest film to the SXSW Film Festival to treat his hometown crowd to something new. That something new is "Hypnotic, a detective thriller starring Ben Affleck that is not quite finished yet, but it was finished enough for Rodriguez to bring a work-in-progress cut to the festival. I saw the cut and, safe to say, it warrants conversation. So let's talk about it.

Now, let's be very clear: this is not a review of "Hypnotic," as this film is certainly going to change in the editing room between now and its eventual release, so it wouldn't be quite fair to give it an official review. That said, the movie we saw very much felt complete and it's one that Rodriguez has, by his own admission, been working on for around 20 years. Speaking on stage, the filmmaker explained that he conceived of the idea decades ago, and wrote bits and pieces here or there between other projects. Yet, when he finished his massive blockbuster "Alita: Battle Angel," the time finally came for him to finish what he started in the early 2000s.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as putting some money together and getting it done. The pandemic caused several stops in production and, since this film didn't have the backing of a major studio, that greatly complicated matters. Ultimately, Rodriguez fell back on the run-and-gun style of filmmaking that made him a name in the first place, utilizing the "Alita" set that was still in place at his studio in Austin, trimming down the schedule, and getting creative to bring this long-gestating vision to life.

The Rodriguez of old and the Rodgriguez of now

"Hypnotic" is a movie that relies pretty heavily on the premise doing a lot of heavy-lifting once everything kicks in. I have no idea how it will be marketed, but there is much beneath the surface, and I will not spoil anything here. Though, I will say, buckle up, because it's a ride. Roughly speaking though, the film focuses on a detective played by Affleck who finds himself smack-dab in the middle of a twisted mystery involving his missing daughter. What's more, there's a strange and seedy secret government program at the center of a string of mind-bending crimes.

Without getting into the specifics of the mind-bending of it all, I will say this is closer to Christopher Nolan than it is to Quentin Tarantino. It feels like a blend of the Robert Rodriguez that made "Desperado" nearly 30 years ago, along with the guy who made the massive-budget "Alita: Battle Angel" just a handful of years ago. It also, based on the cut we saw, currently feels like a movie that might have been more at home back when Rodriguez first conceived of the idea. It feels like a movie out of time, for better or worse.

Turning the screws

What we do have is a tight 90-ish minute thriller that will keep you guessing. It is by no means your average studio blockbuster, and it feels like a guy saying "f*** it" and making the movie he wanted to make.

In its current form, this ambitious, wild film feels a bit like a piece of Ikea furniture that definitely has the shape of the item on the box, albeit one that still needs another pass or two with that little wrench they give you to put the damn thing together. Once that happens? Who knows? I am nothing if not curious to see how the final product turns out and how the masses react to it.

"Hypnotic" does not yet have a release date but expect to likely see it later this year.