Judge Joel Pearce's movie script is titled Tertiary Anxiety. He's taking his movie title generator in for repairs.
How do you stop a killer who is inside your head?
If you add enough familiar genre elements to your film, it no longer matters whether that it's well made. Murderous Intent is so mind-achingly generic that I didn't care by the end that it is, in a lot of ways, a good movie.
Facts of the Case
Police psychologist Sally (Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine) is brought in to help unravel a bizarre case that centers around a bizarre murder in a boys' boarding school. Inspector McKenzie (Richard Roxburgh, Van Helsing) can't get enough physical evidence to convict teenager Alex (Eddie Redmayne, Elizabeth: The Golden Age). He is sure that Alex is guilty, but needs Sally to get into his head and find the truth. As she talks with Alex and the many flashbacks unfold, however, it seems that someone else was already in Alex's head. Nigel (Tom Sturridge, Vanity Fair), the murdered boy, had a strange connection to Alex, but Sally isn't convinced that Alex is guilty.
Admittedly, it doesn't help that the British-Australian co-production Like Minds was renamed Murderous Intent for its North American release. Murderous Intent is one of those ([ominous adjective]+[abstract noun]) titles, no doubt chosen through the use of some Hollywood title generator programs. This new title raises the ghosts of Primal Fear and Cruel Intentions, both of which are bad choices considering the plot.
As expected, the events of the film are also quite familiar to thriller veterans. We know almost instantly that we're trapped in the middle of a generic thriller, but we aren't sure what kind at first. Is it the multiple personalities twist? The psychic teenager twist? The boarding-school-unrequited-gay-love twist? The secret conspiracy twist? I won't spoil it for you here, but I can certainly say that each of the above twists has been done in much better films than this. As if realizing that the audience is likely to figure things out too early, a lot of work has been done to muddy things up for us. Of course, all that really ever does is confuse us, and we're certainly left with significant questions when the credits start rolling here.
The biggest of these questions: what are all these great actors doing in generic drivel like this? It's a B-grade movie with an A grade cast. Toni Collette is an excellent actor, and holds the film together nicely. Richard Roxburgh has made some iffy choices in the past (I'm looking at you, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but he doesn't turn himself into a typical detective here. Both of the boys give standout performances as well. These consistently strong performances do help, but the best performances in the world wouldn't change the fact that Murderous Intent is strictly recycled material.
The biggest problem here is that we are never given reason to distrust the story that Alex tells Sally. The film lacks the sophistication to play games with the audience; it is content to simply coast on the back of the twist that it's chosen. All thrillers know that the audience has certain expectations: a good thriller knows how to exploit those expectations to surprise and entertain us.
For what it's worth, Genius Products has pulled together a solid little package for this release. The image quality is consistently strong, with solid black levels and good overall detail. The sound is also excellent, with clear dialogue, an effective score, and inventive surround design. The disc has a production featurette, as well as a commentary with director Gregory J. Read and composer Carlo Glacco. It's a great track, and it's clear that a lot of thought was put into the production of the film. I just don't understand why nobody realized that they were doing something that had been done before.
I wish I could recommend Murderous Intent. After all, it isn't a bad movie in any single aspect of its production, except perhaps the script, which fails to acknowledge the massive list of thrillers it steals from and reflects. Though it is a competent production, it failed to grip me, which is the most important thing for any thriller.
Murderous Intent is guilty, whether Alex is or not.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Director and Composer Commentary
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