In the upcoming horror film Hypochondriac, Zach Villa plays Will, a gregarious young pottter with a great job and a great boyfriend, but a dark past that comes back to haunt him in some fairly literal ways. Along the way, he meets a therapist, played by Criminal Minds and Birdgirl star Paget Brewster, who tries to help him deal with his demons. In an era of increasingly progressive horror storytelling, it's been fairly easy for critics to single out Will's sexuality as a key appeal in the film, but at its core, Hypochondriac aims to be a smart, scary movie that's compelling regardless of who's watching.
"I think it speaks to everyone in a sense," Brewster told ComicBook. "I think a lot of us have experiences with someone who has mental health issues. The core of the movie is this young man struggling with mental illness from childhood trauma, and it's manifesting itself in physical pain, and he's trying to figure out what it is. It's just a great, psychological horror film."
The feature directorial and screenwriting debut of Addison Heimann, Hypochondriac stars Zach Villa (Destroyer, Good Mourning), Devon Graye (I See You), Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds), Marlene Forte (Knives Out), Madeline Zima (Californiacation), Yumarie Morales (Killer Therapy), and Chris Doubek (Bacurau).
"[Producer] Bay Dariz sent me the script for Hypochondriac that Addison Heimann had written, and I was so scared of getting COVID," admitted Brewster, who filmed the movie in the early days of the pandemic. "We didn't have much information at the time. People were washing their vegetables in baking soda and vinegar. So they sent the script and I was like, 'Oh, this is an indie film, it's a first time director, I don't know if I want to do this.' But then I read the script and I thought it was just brilliant and I'd never read anything like it before. I agreed to do it, and I'm so glad I did becuase I think the film turned out even better than what I imagined when I read it and when I shot on it."
The actor admits that she only worked on the project for a few days, crediting the final result to the sharp screenplay, as well as the performance of Zach Villa, who had to work like he was the lead in a TV show, putting in long hours every day, as he was in nearly every shot in the movie.
"I wanted to honor the story," Brewster said. "I was so happy that they offered me that part, because it isn't a character I can recall ever playing. But Zach Villa, who's the star of this, is just so good. As a person, he's such a kind, thoughtful, generous young actor, and he had to do such a difficult job in this movie. so knowing that, and being in a scene with him, all I wanted to do was to help him and support him and give him whatever he needed. The empathy that this psychiatrist has is on the page, and was made very easy because our director was so lovely and positive, that it was very easy to feel the feelings I had in the movie, because I just wanted to support this idea, and the doctor was trying to support [Will] in that moment."
In Hypochondriac, Will, a young Hispanic gay potter, is one gregarious guy. His boss is terrible, but he's got a great boyfriend and a great job. Unfortunately, behind that veneer is a dark past of violence and mental illness that he is desperate to keep hidden. When his bipolar mother comes out of the woodwork after ten years of silence, he begins exhibiting unexplainable symptoms and spirals into an obsession, determined to solve this mystery of his own.
The film is out now in limited theatrical release, and will be available to rent On Demand and buy on Digital on August 4.