The broad umbrella of electronic dance music, commonly known by its acronym EDM, covers many subgenres, but none of those distinctions really matter when considering what serves as the backdrop to Enter the Dangerous Mind (get it?!). Originally called Snap, the film underwent a title change cheapening that left it with little more than a literal statement about its narrative. Maybe it’s an acknowledgment of the film’s shtick—its paralleling a heavily tormented, socially dissonant DJ with the music he finds most refuge within: dubstep, an EDM subgenre characterized by heavy, tormented bass lines and melodically dissonant harmonies—or maybe that’s looking too much into a dumb idea. Because EDM is only truly concerned with a cursory understanding of EDM, just as its filmmakers are only truly concerned with a cursory understanding of the film’s core element (the perils of mental illness) as a gateway to shock-schlock.
Blueprints for the film were in their early stages before its tangible shape formed in 2008, when directors Youssef Delara and Victor Teran heard about a deadly massacre in Los Angeles. On Christmas Eve, a man named Bruce Pardo showed up in a Santa suit to his ex-wife’s family’s get-together and killed nine people before shooting himself in the head. Delara and Teran were struck by the senselessness of such a heinous crime, but found their inspiration in the idea that an act so indefensible to the outside world was justified to Pardo, if only temporarily. So the filmmakers set out to develop a simulation of what Pardo’s path to murder might look like.
Dangerous Mind is a suspense thriller that follows Jim Whitman (Jake Hoffman), a clinically unstable EDM DJ, down a schizophrenic spiral after a promising date with his desired coworker ends…prematurely. Pushed by constant berating from his hallucinated, misogynistic alter ego/mental terrorist Jake (Thomas Dekker)—our protagonist’s own Tyler Durden—Jim convinces himself of said coworker Wendy’s (Nikki Reed) malicious and completely fictitious plan to make him both the town’s laughing stock and a non-contender for future female prospects. She must be stopped.
Jim has been in and out of therapy and various social programs for years. When he was younger, he survived a traumatic case of sexual violence at the hands of his half brother, triggering his psychological battle and planting the Jake persona into his head indefinitely. Now he spends his days laying down grimy, wobbly bass tracks in his computer lab dungeon, trying to drown out the voices in his head through the power of dub. His DJ alias—Braintree2020—enjoys small prominence in the scene and a strong online following.
“Why do I love that so much? It’s just a bunch of noise put together,” Wendy asks Braintree of his niche music preference during their first night out. He responds: “It’s like combining them and finding that perfect blend of sounds, and when you find it, you fuse them together and it sounds like silence.”
The words “love” and “perfect” hardly belong in a wholesale report of Dangerous Mind, but the elemental balance Jim describes is felt throughout the film, made possible in no small part by composer Reza Safinia. Unmeasured yet smooth, its tempo and direction make wide lefts and hard rights, but nothing jerky enough to entirely derail the whole soundtrack. Like the bass-heavy, black heartbeat it’s guided by, the movie adheres to an unusual but rhythmically sturdy structure, yet its content—a Project X dubstep remix from hell assisted by quick jump cuts, hazy slo-mo hallucinations, filters as dark as Dekker’s eyeliner and images manipulated to simulate Animorphs paperback covers—isn’t really worth structuring.
Jake Hoffman starring as a tortured schizophrenic keeps a disposition appropriately removed and off-kilter, but never vacant. Jim stumbles through an inescapable labyrinth of his own psychological demons and carries out acts of woefully misdirected violence, the root cause of which is explained away by childhood trauma—a lazy but admittedly affective device. Without empathy, and without compassion, but with sinister intrigue, we observe Jim like a lab rat through a one-way mirror as his vulnerability gives way to hopeless vengeance. Save for his sick beats, he’s afforded few redeeming qualities.
For a film whose central theme hinges on mental illness and the onslaught of therapy sessions coupled with mildly effective medical treatments, Dangerous Mind is fairly unapologetic about its lack of sensitivity to and knowledge of the subject. It uses psychoses as a gaudy accessory—formidable, but fundamentally a support prop. The same is true of the harrowing score and dubstep subculture. The filmmakers don’t pretend to care about the mentally ill, nor do they care to spout music culture diatribes. Their only dog in this fight is to make a movie packing a viscerally shaking stomach punch, and few musical genres are more befitting to soundtrack the life of a scorned schizophrenic DJ on a murder mission than electro bass-to-the-face.
Safinia, whose production and songwriting versatility appeared on Delara’s Sundance Grand Jury nominated Filly Brown in 2013, delivers a throbbing electronic score. Elsewhere, there’s not much praise to find—not in the substance, nor the ambition, nor the writing, nor the cast. Reed, for her part, does what she can to charm up an over-recycled wasteland of a character and Dekker commands little cause for alarm, at times adopting Jesse Pinkman affectations and yapping in Jim’s ear with the gravitas of a Pomeranian nipping at his heels. It’s all an utter mess, but still: the result is in places a godsend of fascinatingly bloated crassness. Buoyed by its erratic pace, Dangerous Mind achieves something that amounts to a joyride—in a dismissal of all logical sense, it’s an enjoyable piece of modern exploitation horror.
Director: Youssef Delara, Victor Teran
Writer: Victor Teran
Starring: Jake Hoffman, Nikki Reed, Thomas Dekker, Scott Bakula
Released: February 6, 2015