Family dramas are a gold mine for potential movie ideas. The tense atmosphere and distrust and paranoia of the characters adds intrigue and strife to stories. It is almost a ready made situation for any plot. Of course, this does require a worthwhile plot. Otherwise, the audience is left with a film starring a troubled family they have no interest in.
Released in 1989, Mind Games is a psychological thriller. The movie is about a marriage on its last legs. Rita and Dana Lund decide to take their son Kevin on a camping trip in order to resolve their issues. The two get an RV and head out to the woods in California. Attempting to save their union, the two meet a mysterious stranger with other ideas.
There is almost a charm in the simplicity of the movie. The male breadwinner of the family is threatened by his wife who now wants a career. For her part, she questions what was missed by becoming a wife and mother. Their innocent son knows much more than his parents are willing to admit. When they meet Eric, he introduces them to a philosophy that almost goes against the standard rule of growing up American.
Unfortunately for Mind Games, the laid back approach goes beyond the antiquated (even by 1989 standards premise) mindset. Eric is welcomed into the family immediately after Kevin befriends him. (This is after the young boy finds the stranger playing a flute shirtless in the woods.) The three manage to keep their new friend on despite unwanted sexual advances, vandalism, and attempted murder.
This has the effect of making the film move fast, without any conflict. Rita is the most distrustful of Eric’s “black magic”, but is quickly seduced by it. Thankfully, she is also able to wave it off as “sensational “ yet meaningless to prevent the film from having any interesting dissension. More spectacularly, is when Eric attempts to kill Dana in his sleep but is thwarted by the rest of the family. For some reason, they still let the drifter travel with them afterwards.
The acting actually plays into the theme of the film. As the villain’s antics become more outrageous, the acting in Mind Games raises in intensity. The wooden acting is replaced with melodramatic exchanges. It is hard to tell if it is intentional since there is odd dialogue throughout the entire movie, but it certainly appears to be. Early on, the four have conversations while later they become loud exchanges.
There is a good idea hidden somewhere in Mind Games. Though the reveal is handled clumsily, Eric’s master plan is gleefully evil. His plan to destroy the family (lucky coincidence he came across them) includes some good ideas. If the plan was to have him come across as some sort of evil super genius, it works – even if he is on the lower end of the scale.
Director Bob Yari also does a more than passable job, even if he does make interesting choices.. There are some good looking shots in Mind Games. They do have a stock footage feel to them, but they do stand out. The contrast is much of the movie is poorly lit. It is incredibly hard to tell what Eric is doing during his first evil act. Dramatic slow motion makes the whole endeavor even sillier due to what is happening.
Mind Games is a weird movie. Releasing as the slasher film craze was fading, the story tries to be more cerebral. This was a seemingly smart decision since it would make it stand out. It also has an interesting premise, but it’s buried deep within layers of pointless drivel. The film is a classic case of a good idea in theory that was poor in execution.