Review by Cole Groth
Contrary to popular opinion, Hollywood is still an incredibly original industry pumping out dozens of completely original films each year. Take 2022’s Mindcage, for example. It’s a brilliant story about a serial killer who helps an in-over-her-head police officer find another police officer. If this premise reminds you of Jonathan Demme’s Academy Award-winning 1991 psychological horror The Silence of the Lambs, that’s because it’s a complete knockoff. Without any passion for filmmaking, Mindcage is a bastardization of an excellent film with no real merit.
The story follows Mary (Melissa Roxburgh), a police officer with a slightly complicated backstory. She’s never as heroic nor emotionally involved as Jodie Foster’s Clarice and feels somewhat robotic as she tries to solve a series of brutal murders. Each murder is paired with a short torture scene, which is uncomfortable to watch, but horror enthusiasts won’t bat an eye. No victim is interesting enough to make the audience care about them, and Mary’s detective partner Jake (Martin Lawrence), seems to care even less. To get help solving the case, Jake and Mary consult the Artist, an incarcerated serial killer who’s always two steps ahead of the detectives. He offers his service to Mary at a price and slowly unravels her as the two detectives try to solve the murder.
As a new film critic, I find it hard to criticize smaller productions like this because there’s usually a lot of misguided passion involved. That would surprise me if anybody truly cared about making this a good movie. I’m not entirely sure whom this production is directed toward. Fans of Martin Lawrence and Melissa Roxburgh know them from comedic films and dramatic television, respectively. Neither actor has performed in a serious movie, and it’s clear. Roxburgh tries as hard as she can, but Manifest does not prepare her for the daunting task of film acting. John Malkovich is here as the villain, and it’s clear that, at this point, he’ll take any role that offers him money. Malkovich is an extraordinarily talented actor, and it’s a shame to see him waste his skills on a production like this.
Mindcage rarely tries to be an original film. The script, written by Reggie Keyohara III from a story by director Mauro Borrelli is absolute garbage. At best, the dialogue is generic, and at worst, it feels like you’re watching a parody horror film that’d play in a comedic TV series. When Borrelli offers a rare twist from Demme’s film, it’s entertaining. It might’ve been a decent watch if he wrote an original script and the ~90-minute runtime was the same. However, since each beat is a copy of some other film, this has to be held to a higher standard. On a technical level, nothing stands out. The cinematography isn’t notably terrible, but audiences seldom find an exciting shot for anything besides the gore. The score from Leo Z sounds unfinished and rushed. There’s not enough music, and that’s an important misfire in a mystery/thriller like this.
There’s something so sinister about a lousy film that steals from a much better film. I can’t fathom that Mauro Borrelli is passionate about this project because people aren’t passionate about knock-offs. Lionsgate will seemingly finance anything, and it’s disappointing to see the studio fund projects like this. Mindcage is never scary enough to appeal to horror fans, and general audiences would be wise to spend their money on something with care put behind it. The Black List, a survey of the most-liked feature-length screenplays from film executives, released its annual list on Monday. This list contains some of the most brilliant and original writing from passionate writers. Next time Hollywood producers want to greenlight a project like this, I hope they’ll look at this list instead and select one of their scripts. They’ll make a dud at worst, but at least they won’t have made Mindcage.
Mindcage releases in theaters and VOD on December 16th.