The scenario certainly sounds exciting enough, a killer who hunts those who are training to hunt them, killers that is. Then why did Mindhunters, shot in the Netherlands for budgetary reasons, get shelved for two years?
From what I've gathered, the originally 20th Century release was picked up then caught within the ugly disintegration of Disney and Dimension/Miramax Films. Add in typical marketing excuses and you now have a film slated for a 2003 domestic release finally arriving in 2005.
The thriller Mindhunters takes a different approach conceptually (a take on “Ten Little Indians”) - a group of seven A-type personality (for the most part) psychological profilers-in-training stuck in the same peril their studied victims have experienced. The group is part of the Investigative Support Unit to be exact, a unit of the FBI’s Quantico training complex dealing with identifying the forensic psychology of serial killers to better track, understand, and ultimately capture them.
After dangerously failing a recent exam in the relative safety of a training environment, Special Agents Sara Moore (Cold Case's Kathryn Morris) and JD Reston (Christian Slater) along with five other trainees are sent to the shadowy, remote Oniega Island for their final exercise not only to prove their crime solving skills, but specifically to identify their teamwork skills. Unfortunately for them, they are under the direction of loose cannon, Harris (Val Kilmer), a sort of Svengeli with unlimited (so he thinks) powers and control over the young recruits’ training. It’s under his antagonistic, if not effective, command that things start to go awry.
Once alone on the island, the exercise-as-reality experience tracking the “puppeteer” killer truly starts to take a crazed turn. After a serene, fun-filled first evening, all hell breaks loose and the cat-and-mouse games begin. Or rather, the clock begins to tick-tock, as our sociopath has a thing about temporal order. Or should I classify that obsession as a weakness-character flaw. I would if I were one of the smart profilers who ultimately saves the day in Mindhunters.
The profilers begin questioning their fellow man and woman, especially Detective Gabe Jensen (LL Cool J in an appropriately sneaky role), a Philadelphia PD profiler on board as a late addition “passive observer”. I suppose the dead cat hanging from the ceiling is another first clue exposing the exercise as anything but “routine“.
Regardless, the killer begins gruesomely and ingeniously causing their demise, subsequently forcing constant bickering and a questioning of the innocence of each and all of those around. Sounds pretty harrowing, and it is. “A confrontation of personal demons,” as said by Lucas (Jonny Lee Miller) early on. Except for the occasional lull late during the second act and a couple of moments during the over-the-top dual finale, the movie refuses to allow any comfort level until you’re in the comfort of credits and black. I suppose this psychological thriller should be allowed a slight breather considering the rapidly aggressive pace and frenzied finale.
Coming late off the heels of the indie hit, Saw, Mindhunters does lose some originality points, in comparison. The two bit suspense tactics sometimes threaten to send the whole thing overboard. I can easily understand how shoddy thriller tenets (red herrings, active POVs, etc.) seep into storylines, but had the film dug a little deeper, they would have had a more memorable film. Luckily though, it’s all to limiting negative effect.
The main concern of the film is to constantly force our suspicions to be cast upon certain characters and the need to up-the-ante through implausible or erratic story elements-directions.
Either way, with the enjoyable, lively pace, Mindhunters effectively grips you in its cat-and-mouse game. It’s a world full of strongly defined characters who are continually redefined throughout the exciting, thought provoking chase.
There are some wonderful scenes here, especially one early on where Gabe brings clarity and level-headedness, flipping the script and perfectly defining personality traits of the tenderfoot agents. Some of the uniquely defined characters include - Vince (Clifton Collins, jr.), the gun toting, brooding paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, who knows he and Sara have already been identified as, “unfit for profiler duty“, then comes through with valuable historical information on the island and its 16th century history; Sara, the whip-of-a-mind heroine searching for her inner strength; Bobby (Eion Bailey), whose brilliance is sometimes drowned by his arrogance; JD and Lucas, headstrong leader types with the latter into gambling and hidden secrets, and a couple of other additions in Nicole (Patricia Velasquez) and Rafe (Will Kemp).
The thinly painted characters are breathed to life by an ensemble cast that strengthens the believability factor of each performance.
Although Renny Harlin (Long Kiss Goodnight, Deep Blue Sea, Die Hard 2, The Exorcist: The Beginning) has a spotty record as a director, he’s shown himself to be a fine craftsman, and this film is no different. An example - with all the graphic deaths, the killer is never actually seen killing anyone. But with such a pronounced and defined set up, the payoff is bound to let you down - the requisite battle to the death shatters some of the goodwill the film had previously built up.
For anyone like myself who has more than a passing interest in the dark world of forensic psychology, this film is of interest. Most cinematic journeys into such mysterious world continue to be of interest primarily because they are given the benefit of a naturally suspenseful environment, but also the fact that such evil continues to remain in our midst, as evidenced in the United States by the recent arrest of next-door-neighbor type killer, Dennis Rader, BTK, in Wichita, Kansas. A killer who toyed with authorities for over three decades from the 1970s to his arrest in 2005.
Of course, Manhunter, Seven, and Silence of the Lambs are a few prime recent examples of similar films.
The superb thing about this one is we go into a more psychologically based world. A world where the killer is not only supposed to be one of the good guys, but also is closely tied to his victims in a startling manner.
In all honesty, many may see Mindhunters as the cliché ridden , convulted picture it is. Not I. For myself and those who are interested in this area of study, an area defined by work by people like John Douglas and Robert Ressler and Ann/Alan Burgess, authors of ‘Crime Classification Manual', amongst others, this type of insight will always be important.
And I must say, although this may sound a bit insensitive, I admit, but speaking strictly in a cinematic sense, alongside the ultra violent Final Destination series, Mindhunters features some of the best "kills" executed.
So the effective, if not consistent, thriller has enough sound mind games to enlist this player.
© Julian Boyance, May 13, 2005
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