‘Mindcage’ movie review: John Malkovich stars in schlocky Silence of the Lambs ripoff

A pair of detectives hunt a copycat killer who sculpts their victims into ornate angels in Mindcage, a schlocky and shameless ripoff of Silence of the Lambs now (inexplicably) playing in Prague cinemas. Overtly poorly made and yet impeccably hand-crafted, this one crosses into so-bad-it’s good territory and just might be The Room of serial killer movies.

Mindcage stars Martin Lawrence as Jake Doyle, the grizzled detective who put away a sicko serial killer named The Artist years ago only to see new murder victims dressed up like ornate angels start popping up around town. The IMDb trivia section informs us that Lawrence, better known for his comedic turns, “worked with an acting coach” to prepare for his role. Incredible.

The Artist killed Jake’s old partner during their previous encounter, so Lieutenant J.P. Owings (Robert Knepper) pairs him with a much-unwanted newbie in Mary Kelly (Melissa Roxburgh) to hunt down the new killer. When it becomes clear that the copycat murders contain details that only The Artist could have known, the detectives have but one avenue to turn.

The Artist is played by John Malkovich, kept all by himself in an open-space prison cell in the middle of an otherwise nondescript set. He requests his own art supplies in order to spill the beans to Kelly, and pretty soon he has quite the art studio going on. But does he really know who’s behind the murders?

Mindcage is a compendium of thriller cliches from The Silence of the Lambs and other 90s movies it inspired about detectives hunting serial killers: CopycatSe7enKiss the Girls, and many, many more. We don’t get movies like this any more, and likely for good reason: with the popularity of true crime documentaries and films like Zodiac and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, audiences now expect more realism in their serial killer entertainment.

This one, meanwhile, feels like it came from a script penned in the mid-1990s: all of the Thomas Harris cliches are ticked off one-by-one, right up through the loony conclusion that eschews multiple red herrings in favor of a resolution that comes out of nowhere.

In addition to being trite and outdated, Mindcage is also inexplicably poorly made. It has a modest budget and clear ambition, but director Mauro Borrelli, an illustrator who did concept art for films like The Last Jedi and The Hateful Eight, seems to make the wrong choices in every scene.

Rear-screen projection during driving sequences is a particular standout, with mismatched color grading resulting in a presentation right out of a spoof comedy; as other VFX are similarly poor, it’s entirely possible the production ran out of money before it was properly finished. Both Roxburgh or Lawrence are utterly unconvincing as police detectives, and while Malkovich predictably chews the scenery, he’s left unconscious and convulsing for much of the second half.

Multiple actors have had their entire performances poorly ADR’d, including Croatian actor Neb Chupin, who plays Mindcage’s Frederick Chilton character and appears to have been dubbed by Chris Parnell. He features in the film’s head-scratching (from a filmmaking perspective) final sequence, a sweeping crane shot that plays out like watching an NPC meander around the screen after the player-character has exited the game.

Mindcage plays with and pokes at serial killer movie cliches that were already outdated by the time Copycat and Se7en were released in 1995, and audiences expecting Mindhunter-level psychological realism in 2023 will be left howling at the screen.

For those in the right frame of mind, however, there’s clearly some fun to be had here. Look for Mindcage to make the rounds on bad-movie podcasts and YouTube breakdowns in the near future.

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