Mind Thief is an indie mystery comedy drama detective story, a promising and surefooted directorial debut for Matt Steinauer, who shares writing and producing credits with lead actor, Angelique Pretorius. A passion project, this entertainingly sinister film serves as an engaging, delightful and exquisite vehicle for both its director and star’s talents.
Centred on budding crime mystery novelist Christine Wilde, she tracks a series of clues linked to strange happenings on a harrowing investigative adventure into the psyche. Pivoting from the problematic chapter 17 of a murder wall designated for her second novel, Chris struggles to break her writer’s block. Going through her morning ritual, a Tibetan singing bowl, her ex-boyfriend and weird neighbours seem to hold the secret to unlocking her mind.
Mind Thief stars Angelique Pretorius who embodies the role of Christine. A full spectrum actor’s showcase, the beautiful and spirited Pretorius gets a chance to play shades of comedy, drama and even action-adventure, delivering a well-balanced and winsome performance. She’s supported by a game cast, composed of Leslie L. Miller as her agent and partner-in-solving-crime Gina, Greg Berman as her deranged ex-boyfriend Nathan and Michael Sean Tighe as the enigmatic, Walter. Miller’s a charming bestie and sidekick, Berman walks his character’s tightrope with dexterity while Tighe steals scenes with a deliciously nefarious turn that recalls the cross-hatched talents of the late Robin Williams.
On the surface, Mind Thief appears to be a tongue-in-cheek whodunnit in the vein of Rear Window but transforms into a clandestine and labyrinthine conspiracy with echoes of Groundhog Day’s loop and Knives Out’s old-fashioned murder mystery quirk. The apartment block setting, game of twitchy curtains and stake out voyeurism conjure up Hitchcock’s classic thriller with Jimmy Stewart. Just as the oddball supporting cast take their places, the mystery caper hits the road as Wilde trails clues that compel a Nancy Drew style investigation.
The Groundhog Day loop remains curious as ever, creating a strange time sequence that ushers in a sci-fi element. Flirting with similar time travel movie dynamics, it’s best to roll with Mind Thief rather than over-analyse the plotting. Knives Out gave audiences a star-studded murder mystery to remind us just how wildly entertaining the genre can be. While Angela Lansbury’s passing means we will never see a pure Murder She Wrote film adaptation, the popularity of Knives Out and it’s musical sequel Glass Onion suggest there’s a revival of ’80s murder mysteries underway in the vein of Clue.
“And you’ll ask yourself… where is my mind?”
To this end, Mind Thief has perfect timing… tipping the hat to the funhouse antics of dark comedy crime capers of yore, while branching off in a new direction. As much as it references The Shining and goes to some strange places, this dark and dreamy movie has an easy-going innocence beneath the mind-altering peril. Mind Thief’s kooky tone enables it to bend the genre, creating a good balance between dark comedy and murder mystery. Using found objects and spy codes, the film propels the underlying conspiracy through newspaper clippings and its zany ensemble of characters.
The smooth cinematography adds a sense of space, gliding beautifully and thoughtfully extrapolating Mind Thief’s kooky tone in drawing out the suspense of this private investigation. A well-paced edit ensures there’s never a dull moment, swathing us in the ever-deepening mystery behind this hypnotic crime drama as twists-and-turns land. Then, the film’s mesmerising mystery theme further enhances this driving momentum, elegantly capturing the dark, swirling yet quirky tone of this indie gem.
Moving from a modern suburban apartment block to an industrial zone and then a creepy country mansion, Mind Thief’s retro vibrations are further enhanced by its vivid film locations. While Hitchcock’s Rear Window was content to tell its voyeuristic story from a fixed perspective, Mind Thief is sprawling, opening up its Los Angeles setting to make Chris the fixed viewpoint instead.
While the storytelling, performances, soundtrack, locations, edit, direction, tone, pacing and cinematography are adept and cohesive… sensitively drawing together an intriguing mystery, Mind Thief has its flaws. When it comes to the comedy, some of the humour doesn’t quite hit home and there are a few niggles when it comes to continuity, perspective and production design. While these minor drawbacks amount to distractions, Mind Thief’s overarching allure, passion project prowess and funhouse spirit keep it on track.
Mind Thief is delightful, engaging, entertaining and mesmerising, keeping audiences guessing as the swirling plot and rich layers craft a surprisingly intricate sci-fi mystery caper. The film’s twisty storytelling, kooky charms, vivid film-making, original vibrations and retro sensibilities encourage a second viewing, making it a shiny Rubik’s Cube of a movie. While somewhat restrained, this indie feature film fires on so many cylinders, you’re lassoed back into the throes of the tongue-in-cheek whirlwind detective mystery adventure before you have a chance to properly register your distraction. Leaving the door wide open for a sequel, let’s hope Steinauer and Pretorius have the impetus to see a return for Christine Wilde.
The bottom line: Entertaining