The title of Youssef Delara and Victor Teran’s new film pretty much sums up its shallow and exploitative take on mental illness. A loud and malignant cousin to Antonio Campos’s Afterschool, Enter the Dangerous Mind is about Jim (Jake Hoffman) an EDM composer with a Twitter following but no social network. Under pressure from a roommate (Thomas Dekker) who sadistically harps on Jim’s failed romantic life, he picks up a woman (Nikki Reed) at the office of his childhood social worker (Scott Bakula). The date ends in sexual humiliation, and the film’s awkward protagonist snaps into its remorseless villain.
Enter the Dangerous Mind’s EDM backdrop ought to be a vivid laboratory in which to explore both Jim’s psychopathology and a popular subculture. The music is omnipresent but dexterous, morphing from bass-drop rave soundtrack to a more sinister ambient gurgle adorned with minimalist, Arvo Pärt piano plinks. The directors ape plenty of their elders (notably Darren Aronofsky and Harmony Korine) during Jim’s tonally chaotic descent into booze and pills. House music slips in and out of the diegesis, and camera tricks mimic record scratches and digital layering effects. Such shots should underline the irony of a talented musician utterly withdrawn from those he makes music for, but Teran’s script scarcely bothers to make Jim a character before it turns him into a monster. His artistic passions go unexplained, but his torments—all dwelling on sexual insecurities, none on other forms of human connection—flutter around incessantly. Hoffman plays the character with a detachment that’s meant to convey a severe post-traumatic social anxiety, but the directors’ technical fetishes overwhelm him. Hoffman moves through the film in a stupor, as the camera twirls over his head, music blares around him, and a voice natters on in his ear.
All this may have been well and good if Enter the Dangerous Mind’s aspirations extended no further than an anodyne adolescent thriller in the mold of Fear or The Boy Next Door. But apart from being a lurid psychodrama, the film sees itself fit to offer a running critique of America’s mental-health infrastructure. While heaping indignities upon its protagonist, the film cynically makes anyone in a position to help him both well-intentioned and willfully ineffectual. His mother demands he be left alone, his friends in social work debate whether he’s a “lost cause” or if “potential isn’t destiny,” police officers notice he has an air gun, but don’t confiscate it, and the voice in Jim’s head coaches him into a new prescription and out of a period of psychiatric evaluation.
Most of these straw men are rigged up well after Jim is preparing his bid for infamy. The film’s crude, ex-post-facto logic goes so far as to crosscut its nasty climax with scenes of Bakula’s Kevin literally digging up Jim’s dirty secrets, too late for him to take action. Delara and Teran lay out in the familiar beats of Jim’s ritualistic vengeance (a dead dog, a home invasion, innocent children threatened), nihilistically pleased with both their social critique and the blood gushing from Jim’s victims. But once Chekhov’s air gun is introduced, Enter the Dangerous Mind becomes a lost cause of its own. Like the culture it deigns to critique, the film is as obsessed with blame as it is the audacity of its violence.