Honorary Entry – Mindhunters:
So we’ve reached something of a fork in the roads. Anyone who scrolls back to before I started doing these 100 Films will see that I did other reviews too. And it just so happens that I may or may not have already reviewed films that ended up on my list of 100 favourites. So rather than just re-treading over a film I’ve already done, I decided to come up with a compromise. Four entries on this list have already been covered in the reviews on here. So for each of those, I’ll post both a link to the canon review and cover an honorary film on the list. How does a film count as honorary? Well, here are the rules I like to lay down when deciding what goes on my list:
- It has to be a movie. As in it has to have been released theatrically. Made for television or direct to video therefore does not count. Nor do miniseries that get edited into one film later. After careful consideration, a limited theatrical release doesn’t really count either.
- I have to like the movie. If it’s critically acclaimed or Oscar-winning means jack shit if I wouldn’t want to watch it again. Hence why the list is my ‘favourite’ films and not ‘greatest films I’ve seen’. For example, I recognise Whiplash as a fantastic film that’s flawlessly made. But I have no intention of watching it again – so it doesn’t count.
- The movie must be genuinely good in my eyes. I include it on my list if I think its good points outweigh its flaws, and is still a quality piece of cinema. If there’s something I enjoy in an ironic ‘so bad it’s good’ sense, then it doesn’t count. So the likes of Showgirls, Mommie Dearest and The Room don’t qualify.
So the honorary picks are the ones that don’t meet one or all of the above criteria. The first honorary pick fits the first two, but unfortunately doesn’t quite meet number three. All will become much clearer the further I get. So without further ado, let’s look at the hot mess that is Renny Harlin’s Mindhunters. The actual film in number 69 is Mean Girls, and you can check out that review here. I’ll grade it at the end just the same though.
We open with a series of opening credits underwater, interspersed with the sounds of a female screaming. I smell a traumatic flashback somewhere. Then we cut to two wannabe FBI profilers – Sara (Kathryn Morris) and JD (Christian Slater). I’m honestly missing his Billie Jean blond hair. They appear to be tracking a serial killer, and have done so to a creepy abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. I have to say, it is nice to see Kathryn Morris investigating a recent case for a change…
After Sara does some investigating around the perimeter, she finds a car with a fresh coat of paint and a new licence plate – hinting that this house belongs to their guy. This stops becoming just a hint when screams are heard from inside. She and JD go in guns blazing and unfortunately find the girls dead. But the killer appears to have committed suicide so Sara calls in the situation as being secure. But a second killer pops up to take care of them both…
This is actually an exercise for the FBI students, and the fact that JD and Sara ended up ‘killed’ means they failed. Badly. They’re brought before their superior, Harris (Val Kilmer). His first order of business is to remind Sara that the situation is only secure “on the drive home” – and his second is to chew them out for missing all the clues that there was a second killer. In class the next day, he reveals that the simulation was based on a real case where the victims both died. Sara questions why he’s giving them simulations where they couldn’t save them – and he responds “the point is to get used to it” – which is harsh but true.
At the bar later, we’re introduced to the rest of our main cast.
Bobby, the ace of the team. He does everything better than anyone else and will let you know it too. He’s also played by Eion Bailey, one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. And I watched this movie in the first place because he was in it. And yes, the fact that his character is called Bobby is going to earn the movie major points.
Nicole, played by Patricia Velasquez – she of ‘that smouldering hot Egyptian warrior princess in The Mummy’ fame. She has recently quit smoking, and isn’t having the best time of it. She’s also the only other female on the team – in an attempt to make the movie feel less like a sausage fest.
Lucas, played by English actor Jonny Lee Miller. He has a very decorated career now, and turns in an okay performance. The problem is that he’s hidden under one of the most uncomfortable southern accents you’ll ever hear. But you’ll enjoy the movie more if you imagine that Lucas is just drunk and pretending to be southern the whole time. His thing is gambling.
Rafe, played by yet another Brit. This time, the character is also British. And the actor in question is Will Kemp – absolutely rocking the early 2000s blond hair. Doesn’t seem to have much character, aside from epically misreading a gay dude in the bar. A later line claims he’s a “coffee junkie” but there’s no real sign of this.
Vince, played by Clifton Collins Jr. He’s in a wheelchair and he’s also the least likeable of these characters. The chair isn’t the reason; it’s the constant whining and negative attitude. This guy is a grumpy ass who is every level of annoying. He also never goes anywhere without a gun.
Vince tells Sara that he snuck a look at Harris’s documents, and he saw that the two of them are likely to be failed. There’s an assignment to take place on an island over the weekend – and the two of them aren’t likely to be passed afterwards. As they board the helicopter to take them to said island, they get an eighth addition to their group.
Gabe, played by LL Cool J, is there as an observer from the CIA. The group was also missing a black guy, so he was presumably happy to beef up the diversity. We now have three white Americans, a Latina woman, a Brit, a black guy and a gentleman in a wheelchair who might be Latino too (his actor is half-Mexican). This conveniently diverse bunch are shown their playground for the weekend.
It’s an island set up to look like a crime scene. The scenario is that a serial killer known as ‘The Puppeteer’ has murdered two people already, and is after a third. They have until 8am on Monday to profile the killer – in between giggling at the visual puns left over the island.
Gabe is already noticing the odd nature of the set-up. After all, they’re fifty miles from the mainland. There’s no way off the island, and limited communication. As this was made in 2004, there would be limited cell phone activity. Harris claims that being alone, isolated and scared is what it’s like to be in the mind of a serial killer. The way he delivers that line presumably contributes to the ‘scared’ umbrella. It seems that gets to Sara – as she’s off by herself later in the night. When Lucas finds her, she tells him what Vince discovered. It seems that Harris doesn’t think she can get past some kind of trauma in her earlier life. Lucas comforts her by saying his parents were murdered.
He says that one can get over their personal demons by confronting them over and over again – which is pretty sound advice. Too bad the main thing a viewer will take away from this conversation is Lucas’s accent. We’re shown a montage of the others getting up to various ways of passing the time in the night – the highlight of which is showing that JD and Nicole are sleeping together.
The next morning, Sara finds a dead cat in the bathroom. As in a real dead animal and not a simulation. It has a watch stuck in its mouth – set to 10:00. This must be their first clue, so they split up to search the town. Sara and Nicole go together, allowing the movie to pass the Bechdel Test, before Vince finds a mannequin to simulate a dead body. After he delivers a not-supposed-to-be-throwaway line about how they should have been allowed to bring guns, they realise it’s now 10:00. A trap goes off, with some dominoes setting off a canister of liquid nitrogen. We get our first death of the movie, so who does Renny Harlin choose to kill off?
Yep, the one played by Christian Slater. Probably the most recognisable name in the cast at the time, this was a deliberate move by Harlin to show that the killer meant business. He also took care to give plenty of lines and development to the rest of the cast – with the intention of not having a defined protagonist. As such, it was meant to give the impression that anyone in the cast could die. I have to say that he succeeded. Although Sara is the obvious protagonist, there was no obvious first victim. Christian Slater was just there to taste the following trope.
Despite being a mystery thriller, the film is definitely taking a lot of influence from slasher films. The killer dispatches his/her victims in elaborate ways, and Sara is quite an obvious Final Girl. She’s notably demurer and more fragile than the others. While they have their own particular vices, her flaw is a past trauma. And her flaw is precisely one that would prevent her from being able to fight a killer off. The original formula was meant to raise the fear factor – as it’s meant to be scarier when the weaker character is up against the killer. Of course after decades of slasher films, that element has sort of lost its original meaning. It’s sort of a given that the supposedly weaker female in the group will be the one to make it out. So the movie can’t completely escape the clichés it was trying to go against. But points for effort. Big points.
Back at the living quarters, they find all the phones dead and another watch. This one is set for 12:00 – which gives them ninety minutes. Bobby remembers seeing a pier with a boat when they arrived, so they head for the last possible way off the island. But this is only half an hour into the movie, so Lucas sets off some kind of motion sensor. It triggers a bomb that blows up the boat. Lucas gets rather panicky when he sees that Sara has been thrown into the water – which I think might be related to a certain trauma in her past. The others now suspect that Harris might have rigged all of this – as none of them can remember seeing him leaving the island. Vince now reveals that he brought his gun. Three guesses where he hid it. What is it with Renny Harlin and men hiding guns near their sacred man parts?
Skip to 1:07 to get this joke.
Everyone now agrees that shit is definitely about to go down, so they have to search the island. They break open a restricted area which has weapons in it, and proceed to search the island. Sadly, there’s a big editing goof here. Earlier, when they’re carrying JD’s body, other characters can be seen with guns. But they don’t break out the weapons until this sequence.
After searching the island, they conclude that there’s not another living person on there – besides various stray cats. So they start to flirt with the possibility that the killer is actually one of them. The humans I mean, not the cats.
Lucas now suspects Gabe, after finding various maps of the island and facility stashed in his bunk. They can’t pull their guns on each other for long however, as they realise it’s now 12:00 – and then look down at the coffee they drank. They regain consciousness five hours later, and the second victim is Rafe. His head is sawed clean off and drained of blood. Said blood is used to leave a message.
There’s also two watches, set for 18:00 – which presumably means two victims. They handcuff Gabe to a water pipe, and he confesses that he’s actually been sent to investigate Harris’s training methods. Vince is left guarding him, while Bobby and Sarah try to figure out the number sequence. Lucas and Nicole search the facility for the trap, to no avail. Bobby figures out what the numbers mean – because he’s Eion Bailey, that’s how. It’s the original measurement for light, so they switch them off. It turns out that each of them has a letter written on the back of their coats in a powder that can only be illuminated by a phosphorescent light.
As it turns 18:00, a pipe comes loose downstairs. Then the lights are rigged to dangle from the ceiling, ready to electrify anyone connected to the water. Vince is able to get out of his chair and climb up the wall ladder. He actually does something decent and tosses Gabe his gun to free him. Gabe breaks out of the cuffs and climbs across the wall, just about managing to turn off the power. The gunshots alert the others, and Bobby volunteers to turn off the water – and is promptly impaled by the rigged harpoons in there. Movie, you killed off Eion Bailey. I’m seeing red right now.
Nicole finds another watch, giving them ninety minutes until the next trap. Vince has also figured out what the letters spell out – referencing an Indian tribe that disappeared without a trace on an island. That’s incredibly convenient, but it never figures into the main plot, so I think we’ll just ignore it. The remaining students decide to go to work in a CSI-style montage.
Nicole finds blood under Rafe’s nails, suggesting he may have struggled with the killer. They put it through a machine to compare it to everyone else’s blood. There’s a bit where Vince refuses to give up his gun before the reveal, so they kick his chair out from under him to take it. It’s intended as a moment to show how cruel the others are becoming from the cabin fever – but Vince is such a dick that it’s very satisfying. But anyway, the match turns out to be…
I have to say, I wasn’t expecting Sara. Genre Savvy viewers would have her down as the least likely to be the killer – so this does put at least some suspicion on her. Vince also produces a nice motive – reminding us that Sara wasn’t going to make profiler along with him. And her Freudian excuse is that her sister drowned after being raped when they were younger. While the others are yelling at her, Sara realises that this is exactly what the killer wants.
Nicole is all but convinced Sara’s guilty, and she storms off refusing to trust anyone. But Sara has now realised something else about the various traps. They’re not random; they’re tailored to the members of the team. Some viewers have also suggested that each trap is tied to one of the Seven Deadly Sins in a way.
- JD gets killed because he always insisted on being the leader and taking charge (Greed). This greed would be more in line with a desire to be the best and the first chance to solve the case.
- Rafe is a coffee junkie, giving the killer an easy opportunity to drug everyone (Gluttony).
- Bobby is the ace who fixes everything and loves to show off, meaning he’s the one most likely to try and fix the water pipe (Pride).
- Vince’s planned death was meant to be tied to him refusing to trust anyone else with his gun (Sloth). This is more of a moral laziness – in that Vince would hypothetically be too lazy to try and trust someone else, which he actually did.
So the next trap must be tied to one of their own personal vices. And sure enough, the cigarette machines on the island are rigged to go off. Which one of the group recently quit smoking? This trap could be tied to the sin of Lust – which in its original incarnation was more about desire for pleasure in general. In this case, Nicole’s craving for cigarettes overrides her common sense. The cigarettes are laced with a poison that turns into some kind of acid when she lights them.
Although there aren’t actually any acids that would have the effect shown in the movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if some parents/schools used this scene as a Public Service Announcement to warn kids about the dangers of smoking. But there’s another curveball thrown into the mix – as they hear Harris’s voice on the PA system. What he says implies that he’s been orchestrating everything. Gabe, Lucas and Sara are ready to investigate but Vince isn’t. Gabe handcuffs him to the table, but Sara at least advises him to hide until it’s all over. Vince drags himself out of the chair and manages to make his way to the morgue, where he takes Rafe’s gun. For some unexplained reason, he gets locked in.
They find Harris – dead. He’s been dead all along, and the voice they heard was just a repeated message recorded when the killer had him tied up. All bets are off once again, and now the power goes out. All three of them alternate between shooting at each other – until Lucas goes down. So that must mean Gabe is the killer. He stalks Sara around the set – which does lend itself to some good potential hiding places.
Back in the facility, Vince beats the morgue door open and makes it all the way to the elevator. We see a figure approaching him, and he fires his gun – which backfires on him. So just two to go now. Sara finds the body and then Gabe finds her. After a war of words, he tries to attack her and is stopped by…Lucas?
After a scuffle between them, the two men tumble down a flight of stairs. Gabe is still going until Sara whacks him in the head with a fire extinguisher. Lucas reveals he was wearing a bullet-proof vest. And Sara reveals how she managed to catch the killer out: she set the clock back fifteen minutes. The killer always had to be on time, and he changed it back. Sara put the phosphorescent powder on the back of the clock – so Gabe’s hands will glow when she shines the light on them. Except they don’t!
Yep, Lucas is the killer. So that little speech between Sara and Gabe is a bit of a red herring. Watching it back, it just about holds up with the twist. If you watch it with the knowledge that Gabe thinks Sara is the killer, it passes. But I’m still lost on Lucas being shot. The movie never makes it clear whether or not Gabe shot him, or he thinks Sara did. On my first watch, I thought Lucas must have somehow faked being shot. But the movie never elaborates. Lucas however does elaborate on his motive.
Looks like that gambling addiction was worse than we thought. He actually murdered his own parents, and got away with it. But he could no longer get the same rush – so he had to go for spectacle. He joined the FBI and spent years studying his fellow students. And during the coffee coma, that’s apparently when he rigged all the traps. Whether all that would be possible to do in five hours, I’ll leave that up to you.
Going back to the theme of sin, Lucas’s in this case could be Envy – perhaps wanting the same infamy as other noted serial killers. Alternately, it’s a form of Lust since he has a clear addiction to killing. Or more bluntly, Wrath since…well he’s murdering people. Anyway, a fight ensues between him and Sara. They end up in the pool outside, firing guns at each other underwater. The first shots would probably happen, but the ones after that? Gabe regains consciousness and the two-against-one factor ensures Lucas is in the past tense. The next day, the FBI helicopter picks them up. As they’re on the way home, Sara can officially call the situation secure.
This film wasn’t a great success at the Box Office, just making under its budget back and quickly fading from public consciousness. It’s not a great movie, although I feel it could potentially have been one. The premise is a neat idea, and the script is almost intelligent. I feel as if in the hands of a different director, the film might have looked a little more sophisticated. Renny Harlin loves him some fun, OTT action stuff. Coincidentally, like Lucas, he goes for spectacle. And while the death traps shock you, the plot is hanging in there by a thread. Rather than one of those movies where the twists are carefully laid out and foreshadowed, this one relies a little too much on red herrings and convenient coincidences. After Nicole’s death is where the movie starts to fall apart. Don’t get me wrong; I love some parts of it. The theme of a killer picking off people based off their own vices and weaknesses is a great idea. I also love the fact that there was no defined protagonist, so you didn’t know which characters would survive. But the difference in tone – from smart, crime thriller to silly, hammy action fest – is a bit hard to take. It does feel like Renny Harlin was trying to make a serious movie, but went back to his go-to strategies (spectacle over substance). Still though, even the critics who didn’t like the film said that they still had to keep watching. They had to find out what happened next. And that is exactly why this film manages to make it as an honorary pick.
This is what it’s like to be graded by a sociopath.
*Story? It *is* an interesting idea; applying the slasher movie format to a crime thriller. The use of the Seven Deadly Sins and the unpredictability kept me watching until the end (and I’ve seen this movie five times now). Unfortunately, there are too many plot twists that rely on coincidences and heavy suspension of disbelief. C-
*Characters? Each character has one specific trait, so they’re a tad flat. But they all get equal amounts of screen time so as to help you get familiar with them. And developing them so that you don’t know which ones will or won’t survive is a big plus. Regardless, I felt Sarah at least was a pretty good character. B-
*Performances? It’s a so-so effort from everyone here. The likes of Val Kilmer, Will Kemp and Christian Slater don’t really get enough screen time to show their stuff. Kathryn Morris and Eion Bailey were the most solid out of the bunch. Everyone else was fine for the most part. C+
*Visuals? I did love the look of the film. The blue filter was used nicely to give it a CSI-type feel. It also had the effect of making us think of the water, which did symbolise how overpowering Sara’s own vice was. The set of the island was creative too. B
*Special Effects? There was one needlessly bad CGI shot of everyone getting thrown by the explosion in the boat. Besides that, everything else was fine. JD getting iced was eerily realistic. C
*Anything Else? The fact that the movie still keeps you watching to the end just because you HAVE to see what happens next is a big point in its favour – the silliness aside. B
Grading Mean Girls now, because I’m so fetch.
*Story? Great deconstruction of bullying and revenge plots, plus a nice satire of high school cliques. A
*Characters? Regina and Cady make for some surprisingly deep leads. The movie is populated by loads of memorable side characters. But Janis getting off without comeuppance gets a big thumbs down from me. A-
*Performances? Flawlessly funny work from every member of the cast. A+
*Visuals? Nice bubblegum pop look to everything, and good use of wardrobe changes to signal character development. B+
*Special Effects? N/A
*Anything Else? There’s a reason this is one of the most quotable movies ever – and it’s all down to Tina Fey’s writing. A
Returning to the actual list, we shall be sampling the Hammer Horror flick The Devil Rides Out next.