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Film / Mindhunters

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Gabe: The island. The middle of nowhere. They're all professionals. What's the point?
Harris: The point is that they're isolated, alone, and forgotten. That's what it's like to be in the mind of a sociopath.

Mindhunters is a 2004 murder mystery film by Renny Harlin, starring Jonny Lee Miller, LL Cool J, and Christian Slater.

It centers around a group of FBI's criminal profiler trainees who are sent to a remote island as part of a special training event designed by their instructor Jake Harris (Val Kilmer). The trainees are supposed to catch a fictional serial killer called "The Puppeteer" but the situation quickly turns for the worse once a real killer starts picking off the trainees. The plot of Mindhunters is much like Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None.

This film provides examples of the following:

  • Achilles' Heel: Lampshaded and overdone ad nauseum. The plot of the movie rests on a FBI profiler killer killing other FBI profilers by presenting them in situations where they will have to fall for traps he's devised, because said trap is their weakness. In the end, he dies by getting shot in the head, causing LL Cool J's character to quip "I guess we found out his weakness. Bullets.". However, the killer's true Achilles Heel is time. Everything has to happen on his schedule.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Attention Whore: Lucas killed his parents and continues his rampage over nothing more than infamy. Hell, the only real thing he was troubled by in his parents' murder is the cops not thinking he was the one who did it, unaware that the kid they handed gum to was the Ax-Crazy Sociopath behind the familicide.
  • Action Girl: Sarah, after she takes a level in badass near the end of the film.
  • Agony of the Feet:
    • Nicole smokes a cigarette, not knowing it has been laced with acid, several drops of which eat through her boot. She briefly stomps her foot in pain before realizing she has other problems.
    • J.D. getting his lower extremities practically flash frozen couldn't have felt that great. It fact he even exclaims that it's burning him.
  • Ax-Crazy: Lucas Harper is one twisted son of a bitch, if his affinity for killing people both For the Evulz and in a way to prove his "superiority". His profile even says he's addicted to killing.
  • And Then What?: Gabe to Vince in one very tense sequence when he's handcuffed to a bed and the latter (who's paralyzed from the waist down) is hanging for dear life from a pipe, with both of them all the while surrounded by rising water electrified by live wires, and Vince thinking it was Gabe's trap.
    Gabe: Vince, either you're gonna hang there forever or you're gonna toss me your gun!
    Vince: I'm gonna watch you die.
    Gabe: Yeah, watch me die! And then what?! "
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: One of the victims is killed by sabotaging his gun this way after he spends the entire movie complaining that he doesn't want to part with his gun.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sarah and Gabe managed to survive the night and stop a deadly serial killer's spree but they will still need to explain why/how 7 FBI agents are dead and are likely going to be subjected to a lengthy Federal internal affairs investigation.
  • Bond One-Liner: "I guess we found out his weakness—bullets."
  • Body Horror: Nicole's death. Turns out that acid ingested via cigs can do a little more than contribute to the chance of getting lung cancer...
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: After the first victim is killed all the phones on the island stop working, and all the team's cellphones lose signal. Not that ridiculous considering they were already 50 miles away from the coast...and the fact that this film takes place several years before the advent of nationwide 3G coverage.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The wall clock and the phosphorescent dust help Sarah finally identify the killer.
    • Nicole's gun becomes a literal example. Vince's gun, on the other hand...
    • And the liquid nitrogen tanks, which are uses to kill J.D.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Subverted and exploited. Almost everyone's death is based on some sort of special skill, strength, or aspect of their personality. Heck, it's the main plot point of the film for crying out loud.
  • The Chessmaster: The mysterious killer.
  • Clock Discrepancy: The heroine re-sets the clock so the villain will misjudge when he's due to strike again. This also played on the villain's obsession with precise timing. She knew that he would reset the clock to the correct time, which would cause the phosphorous powder she coated it with to get on his hands, allowing him to be exposed by a special light.
  • Closed Circle: After the boat gets blown up.
  • Complexity Addiction: Justified and ultimate the killer's undoing. He doesn't want to kill the group in a mundane fashion because that would be unsatisfying. He wants them to know he's doing it and fall for it anyway as proof that he can outsmart them. This allows Sarah to expose him.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Renny Harlin as a mannequin in a phone booth later in the film. Also
    • The people on the Wanted posters are members of the film's art department.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: If being sprayed from the feet up with liquid nitrogen until you fall over or finding out the hard way that your smokes have been laced with Hollywood Acid don't fit this trope, nothing does.
  • Danger Room Cold Open: The film opens with two FBI agents investigating a serial killer's lair looking to save a girl he kidnapped, only to be killed in a firefight with the killer's accomplice. Turns out it was a training scenario by the academy when the lights turn on—which they failed completely, missing every clue that there was a second culprit.
  • Dead Guy Puppet: The killer kidnaps Harris (the group's supervisor), who had remained on the island in secret, and tortures him to death. After it seems like Harris is the killer himself, the group finds his corpse hanging from the ceiling in an abandoned warehouse as a grotesque marionette. They accidentally trigger a switch which animates the corpse to do a dance to a massively inappropriate upbeat jingle.
  • Death Trap: The preferred method of the mysterious killer.
  • Deadpan Snarker: J.D., Gabe, Bobby, and Rafe.
  • Decoy Protagonist: J.D. at a push. The actor who plays him is definitely the most well-known of the main cast, with the possible exception of Val Kilmer, who also ends up dead, and James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J, who lives. Word of God is that no specific character was set up to be the lead, to give the impression that Anyone Can Die.
  • Defiant to the End: The recording of Harris' death have him taunting the killer and telling him that he has underestimated the trainees, and they are sure to capture him.
  • Divide and Conquer: The strategy used by the killer when there are only three survivors left.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Anyone familiar with Christian Slater's usual roles would not expect him to get taken out at all, let alone be the first to die.
    • Ditto for Val Kilmer's character, who doesn't much screen time either, dies offscreen, and gets unceremoniously posed like a puppet afterward.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: The killer.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: After the first death everyone starts accusing everyone else.
  • Evidence Scavenger Hunt: Two of them, actually.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The main plot takes place over the course of a single day.
  • Facial Horror: Vince after his gun explodes when he fires it.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In a Danger Room Cold Open situation, Sara and J.D. enter a house to save a serial killer's latest victim and declare the area safe before they're both "killed" by a second perpetrator. Harris later chews them out about all the telltale signs they missed that the killer might have had an accomplice, including two cars parked in the front.
  • Fair-Weather Mentor: Jake Harris.
  • Final Girl: Played completely straight with Sarah, even outside of a Slasher Movie context: unlike the other female character she is not shown to be sexually active, and in a film in which the killer exploits people's "weaknesses" to kill them, her weakness is not a vice.
  • Foreshadowing: Since the method of death is directly linked to the person's personality, this entire movie is foreshadowing from the get-go. The first two to three scenes set up the entire shaky house of cards. The only trap that isn't really foreshadowed is Rafe (with a Hand Wave of Sara referring to him as a "coffee junkie" several hours later). Another major but subtle instance is Agent Jensen describes Lucas as having an addictive personality. He's addicted to killing.
  • Five-Token Band: We have four white Americans (one of them being southern for some extra flavour), a British dude, a black guy, a Hispanic girl and guy (the latter of whom is also in a wheelchair).
  • Forced to Watch: The killer ties Harris and forced him to watch his recruits die on the monitors before torturing him and killing him.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Sara is terrified of the water because of her sister being drowned and raped.
    • Vince refuses to be without a gun because he was shot and paralyzed.
    • Implied. Gabe notes that J.D.'s desire to be the leader was because he lacked a father figure in his own life.
  • Gambit Roulette: How did the killer know they'd all decide to drink coffee, all at the same time, and all drink enough of it so they'd remain asleep for the same length of time (see One Dose Fits All below)? How did the killer know that Nicole would pass a cigarette machine and then give in to her craving? How did the killer know that JD or Bobby wouldn't simply get out of the way of their respective traps? etc., etc., etc.
  • Ghost Town: The island. It's populated by plastic mannequins dressed as people to simulate a real town.
  • Guttural Growler: J.D.
  • Handicapped Badass: Vince is a wannabe profiler in a wheelchair who is still able to do push-ups, and is strong enough to hang from a pipe for several minutes. Also he never goes anywhere without his gun.
  • Hidden Villain: Lucas Harper, the Serial Killer stalking the island.
  • Hollywood Acid: A quantity of acid small enough to be concealed undetectably in a cigarette is sufficient to kill the FBI trainee who smokes it. While her death might be reasonable under the circumstances, her entire body emitting vapor from, at most, a few mL of acid isn't, nor is the dropped cigarette melting its way into the ground beneath it.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The killer's motive and a rare example of a psychological hunt rather than an outright physical hunt
  • Idiot Ball:
    • It takes Lucas and Sara several attempted gunshots to realize that firing underwater messes up your aim.
    • There's also Nicole's decision to take the cigarettes despite the entire island being on giant death trap.
    • It's soon established that the killer is using traps and schedules to knock off one or two members of the group at a time, and yet no one just considers staying put in the forensic room they know isn't trapped and just waiting the thing out. Sure, the killer is with them, but he's outnumbered and you'd think one person would figure out such a simple solution. Several characters, including the killer themself, actually suggest this but no one adheres to it.
  • It Gets Easier: The killer compares killing to a drug - with each successive kill one builds up a tolerance, requiring ever more extreme acts of violence to achieve a "high".
  • Jerkass: Vince is confrontational, short-tempered, refuses to obey orders, and whines about almost everything. Not to mention how he expresses a desire to murder Gabe when believing he is the killer.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The recording of Harris' torture and death show he truly did care for the trainees and believed in them.
  • Killer Cop: After searching the entire island with infrared sensors, the trainees rule out anyone else being on the island, and realize the killer is one of their own.
  • Kill It with Ice: In the first trap set by the Serial Killer, J.D.'s feet get blasted with liquid nitrogen; his ankles then shatter and he falls to the ground and crumbles.
  • Large Ham: Harper after he is revealed as the killer.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When the killer at the end talks about the importance of misdirection to deceive others, they might as well be describing the job of a screenwriter.
  • Literally Shattered Lives: The first trap captures J.D. by spraying him with liquid nitrogen. He then falls and shatters into a million bloody pieces.
  • The Lost Colony of Roanoke: While the agents are unconscious from the spiked coffee, the killer daubs a single character in phosphorescent material on each of their jackets, which spell out "Croatone". Vince explains the story of how the colonists of Roanoke vanished seemingly without a trace in the 16th century, the only clue being the word "Croatone" carved into a tree. Sara surmises that the killer wants to create a similar unsolvable mystery: how did nine people go to a secluded island in the middle of nowhere and then simply vanish?
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Sara and Nicole are contrasted this way. Nicole's connection with JD is entirely sexual, as opposed to Sara's emotional connection to Lucas.
  • Motifs: Time and water are the most prominent.
  • Motive Rant: The killer delivers a rather prolonged one after revealing themselves.
  • One Dose Fits All: At one point, the killer sneaks a sedative into the pot of coffee the team is drinking from. It takes effect a few minutes later and every team member is out cold within about a minute of each other, and similarly wake up within a minute of each other several hours later. Never mind the disparities in how much coffee each team member drank or that the team includes six team members ranging from a burly Scary Black Man to two petite women (however, Rafe gets murdered while asleep and another is the killer himself, mitigating this slightly).
  • Ontological Mystery: The movie has definite shades of this. The characters do know why they're on a secluded island: as part of an FBI profiler training exercise. It doesn't take long before they're completely cut off from the outside world and it turns out that there's a killer amongst them who starts murdering them one by one.
  • Plato Is a Moron: According to the killer, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, and Ted Bundy are "tired old hacks."
  • Plothole: After repeatedly remarking that the simulation "doesn't feel real" without his gun, Vince pulls out and dramatically cocks a gun and he'd concealed in his wheelchair. All the other characters berate him for this, as they'd been specifically told not to bring weapons. However, just minutes earlier, Nic and Gave can clearly be seen bearing handguns as they carry JD's corpse.
  • Poison Is Corrosive: Invoked during the Hollywood Acid (see above) sequence. The cigarette reveals its potency first by blistering Nicole's fingers, and then we see several drops from it burn through her boot-clad foot. Right before the horror ensues, we see the cig itself melting into the floor.
  • Poor Communication Kills: At the climax, after it seems like Gabe has killed Lucas, he looks for Sara and calls her name in a really creepy tone. Then he finds her and says things like, "Guess we have answers now, don't we?" and, "I'm the profiler! You're the victim!" while roughing her up. It's important to note that neither of them is the killer. And Lucas is still alive. This would be a good time to try working this out and working together. Granted, Gabe's conclusion that Sara is the killer after all is not entirely without merit.
  • The Profiler: Only Harris is an actual profiler, the rest are trainees. Also inverted - every person on the island is a profiler, and the murderer seems to know his victims quite well, enabling some particularly karmic deaths for the flawed criminologists.
  • Recycled In Space: As noted above it's effectively And Then There Were None, with the key differences that (i) all of the characters are law enforcement, and knowledgeable in forensics and profiling; and (ii) the killer extensively employs traps to kill their victims rather than killing them all directly.
  • Red Herring: By the time the team is whittled down to about five people, it's revealed that Jake Harris, the supervisor, has been on the island for the duration of the exercise, when he begins to taunt the team through the loudspeakers set up on the island. They track him down to his lair, only to discover that the speakers were playing a pre-recorded tape and Harris himself had been tortured to death.
  • Red Herring Mole: It features two of these characters.
    • The first is Gabe, an outsider FBI agent who was abruptly sent to accompany the trainees on their mission, who is later found to have detailed files on the others and maps of the island hidden among his belongings. This causes the others to suspect him of being the killer in their midst, and it takes Gabe saving another person's life to prove his innocence. He was really there to investigate their supervisor, whose controversial methods didn't sit well with the higher-ups.
    • The second is the main character, Sarah, who is established to be the killer through a DNA test. Since Sarah herself was up to this point never shown to be duplicitous in any manner, it seems like maybe there's going to be some sort of The Killer in Me twist with Sarah herself not even aware that she was the killer all along, but all this is quickly thrown out the window and they just conclude that the test was likely tampered with.
  • Room Full of Crazy: A wall full of photographs.
  • Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: There's a serial killer killing everyone in incredibly bizarre ways tailored specially to each character's personality. One death was a literal Rube Goldberg machine. Death by being frozen by a dropped bottle of Liquid Nitrogen, or death by smoking acid-filled cigarettes anyone?
  • Sacrificial Lion: J.D. is the first one killed off to show that this isn't just a simulation anymore.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Attempted twice: First by the entire team after J.D. is killed; tried later by Nicole. It doesn't work either time.
  • See Water: The final underwater gunfight is a particularly egregious case of this.
  • Self-Made Orphan: The killer when he was just a lad. He assumed the police would take him away when they investigated the scene, but to his astonishment nobody even suspected him of causing his parents' deaths, which just fed his misantropy even more.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Present within each profiler's characterization.
    • JD represents Greed, with his desire to take the lead and be the best. Were he not so desperate to take the lead and be the leader, he wouldn't have been the first victim.
    • Nicole represents Lust in the form of addiction - as she has recently tried to give up smoking. She's also sleeping with JD. Her desire for cigarettes overcomes her common sense.
    • Vince represents a different sort of Sloth; being injured in the line of duty and left wheechair bound has caused him to be overly reliant on his gun. The trap with the water pipe banks on him not trusting anyone with it, which is moral laziness. In this case he overcomes it and trusts Gabe. It still comes back to bite him in the butt(or rather, the face) later.
    • Rafe represents Gluttony in the form of his coffee addiction which gives the killer an easy opportunity to poison everyone.
    • Bobby represents Pride, with his know-it-all attitude and desire to show off. This gets him killed.
    • Lucas represents Wrath in the form of his addictive personality and competitive streak. And y'know, being the killer.
    • Sarah represents Envy, as she faces not making profiler, which is listed as a possible motive for her being the killer. In this case it's subverted with her.
  • The Smart Guy: Bobby.
  • The Sociopath: Harper, having killed his parents when he was younger for attention, no less. He's then dedicated his life to killing others all for the sake of attention. Plus he's got a severe Lack of Empathy, taking outright glee in torturing and killing his victims, as well as testing out his traps on animals before trying them on people.
  • Serial Killer: A fictional one and a real one.
  • Slasher Smile: Harper flashes quite a few demented ones after The Reveal.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: There's one character who knows the exact speed of light, and this came in handy as to figure out how someone would be killed next.
  • Spanner in the Works: Gabe Jensen
  • Spinning Clock Hands: Used briefly to show time's passage when everyone is knocked out by the drugged coffee. As the camera is watching the clock, we don't get to see the killer's activities during this interlude.
  • Tainted Tobacco: Nicole, being a chain smoker, ends up being killed by an arsenic-laced cigarette placed by the serial killer that burns through her lungs.
  • Take That!: In-universe example: the Navy has left a bunch of rubber ducks floating around with geeky glasses and 'FBI' scrawled on them.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: It was widely considered an unofficial adaptation of And Then There Were None. That said, this case is a combination of Type C and Type K.
  • The Team: JD is The Leader, Sara is The Heart and Gabe is the Sixth Ranger. Elsewhere Bobby is The Ace, Nicole shares The Smart Guy role with him and also The Big Guy with Vince. Lucas claims to be the best driver and Rafe isn't really developed enough to slot into a role.
  • Too Dumb to Live: When you're in the death house, a place that is clearly booby-trapped that has already killed two people (and tried to kill more), under no circumstances do you pick up a random pack of cigarettes you find lying around. You also probably shouldn't be wandering around said death house alone, either, nor should you desert the only other people in the place, considering one of the people you're leaving behind is trying to kill you and knows where the next trap is. Whatever Nicole's strong points are, Genre Savvy is definitely not one of them.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Out of the team of eight, Sara and Nicole are the only women.
  • Torture Cellar: The grim fate of Jake Harris.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Nicole Willis is the tougher and more aggressive of the two women and she is killed off.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Even after Gabe saves him from a trap, Vince continues to believe him to be the killer and nearly shoots him at one point.
  • Undignified Death: Combined with Dropped a Bridge on Him in Harris's case; he gets tortured, forced to watch his students die off one by one, and then is murdered and grotesquely strung up like a marionette for the remaining survivors to find.
  • Unwinnable Training Simulation: The opening Danger Room Cold Open. The goal of the training simulation was to apprehend the two killers without discharging any rounds. Sarah was under the impression that successfully completing the simulation would mean rescuing the two abducted girls unharmed.
    Sarah: Then how could we have saved the girls at the old hotel?
    Harris: You couldn't. They were dead no matter what you did.
    Sarah: What's the point if we couldn't have saved them?
    Harris: The point is to get used to it.