During a chess tournament held on an island, a series of murders implicate chess grandmaster Peter Sanderson, who is receiving messages from the killer. A mind game ensues between the two.
This film provides examples of:
- Chekhov's Gunman: The killer is the computer tech from near the beginning of the film.
- Crazy People Play Chess: The main character, a chess grandmaster, spends a lot of time as a patient in asylums.
- Criminal Mind Games: The killer in the film is engaging in a particularly convoluted mind game with the cops and the chessmaster hero where he kills various women on different locations on the island, each one corresponding to a chess move if you map it out onto a chess board.
- Freudian Excuse: A bit of a weird example in that the movie doesn't seem to come to a decision how it wants to play this. Apparently, the Serial Killer's descent into darkness is supposed to be witnessing his mother's violent suicide following his father's departure when he was just a boy. The problem is that the kid actor they got emoted so little in this scene that he just seems bored and/or fascinated by it, giving the impression that he was already an Enfant Terrible. He doesn't bring it up again until the climax as part of his Motive Rant for wanting revenge on the hero (who was very inadvertently responsible for the killer's parents both leaving him). However, the hero chews the killer out about his excuse and points out that it doesn't justify his horrible crimes, including attempting to kill the hero's young daughter. Then the female lead, who's also a psychiatrist-in-training, walks in and having recognized the killer as one of her boss's patients, tries to talk him out of it while sympathizing with him for his past (she fails and he gets shot to death by aforementioned hero), so supposedly we're meant to see him as a tragic villain after all?
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Subverted, where the protagonist knows the latest word in the serial killer's message without being told directly, because the killer namedropped a chess master and the word is that master's watchword.
- Old Cop, Young Cop: Capt. Frank Sedman (old) and Det. Andy Wagner (young) have this dynamic going between them. Naturally, Sedman is more levelheaded and methodical, while Wagner is more of a hothead.
- Suit with Vested Interests: After the first murder, the Mayor visits the Sherrif's office to suggest that he pin the murder on some random criminal to avoid any more bad publicity for their town during the international chess tournament that is taking place at that moment. The sheriff curtly rejects her idea.