Brainscan

I'm 16 years old and I'm scared!
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1994
Director: 
John Flynn
Starring: 
Edward Furlong, Frank Langella, T. Ryder Smith, Amy Hargreaves
The Setup: 
Kid plays virtual reality game in which he kills people. But is it a game—or is it REAL?
Discussion: 

So recently I thought I might do an experiment with spending evenings without certain substances that might be seen to enhance my experience while painting and then watching a movie, which tends to constitute a typical evening at home for me. Doing so I experienced what I will forever consider the "first night effect," which is that on the first night you're all like "Wow! I feel GREAT! I can't believe how much energy I have! And I slept so well and bounced right up out of bed!" Sadly, the second night is where you go "Man, this sucks. And what do I do now? WHY was I wanting to do this again? I didn't realize everything was so boring. And I'm STILL tired and worn-out in the morning!" Unfortunately, I watched this movie on the second night.

So you've got Edward Furlong, not long after his debut in Terminator 2, and one has got to find something to do with him. We open with him as Michael on a gurney being wheeled into an operating room. Then flash back to a car accident, and learn that his mother was killed. So now he's a bitter 16-year-old who runs a horror movie club at school, has too much technology in his room, and is way bored with current video games, and has apparently played them all. His father is some salesman or whatnot and leaves Michael alone for seemingly weeks at a time. He has this annoyingly obnoxious best friend Kyle, the kind whose every third word is "dude" and wears leather jackets and all but still takes leave of Michael by asking "friends forever?" He's like some corporate marketer's idea of a "cool teen." Kyle tells him about this new game Brainscan, which is said to be "the most frightening experience available on this planet." Michael also spies on and videotapes this homely-but-sensuous girl across the street, Kimberly, who teasingly displays her breasts despite ostensibly believing that no one is watching.

Okay, take a moment and see if you can figure out where all of this is going to go. I'll bet that you could pretty much write the whole rest of the movie from here. Anyway, so Michael calls up Brainscan just to get more information, and they say they'll send him the game, as simple as that. I guess they just send free samples to early adopters? Create some buzz? Michael also says that he's played every game there is and doesn't find any of them scary. Brainscan supposedly interfaces with your subconscious—a little like the vastly superior eXistenZ years later—and away we go. A few days later Michael gets the first disc.

So that night Kimberley's family is having a big party that Michael can see from his window. He calls her, but she doesn't answer. He hangs up and blocks his phone calls—and then she tries to call! Isn't it ALWAYS the way. So he decides to play the game—THAT'LL show 'em! We have our early version of virtual reality, and Michael is ordered to go kill someone before the timer runs out. All of a sudden he's in this house [while a somewhat interesting industrial score sounds], and finds this guy sleeping, as he's hearing a voice in his head guiding him along the way. He kills the guy, then cuts off his foot! This was kind of a shocker, as if it weren't for a few gory elements like this, the movie would TOTALLY be this young adult thing in the style of Cloak and Dagger. Maybe they did it JUST to get an R rating? Anyway, he wakes up at home thinking "Woah, that was intense!" [in fact, he may have said exactly this] then finds that—SURPRISE! He's got a severed foot in his freezer!

Then fucking irritating Jake shows up demanding the game so he can play it too, and Michael refuses, pissing Jake off. Well, why doesn't he just get his own? Sounds like the company is just passing them around to anyone who asks. Fucking irritating moron. Anyway, 30 minutes into the movie, this dude who looks like a variation on the lead singer from Twisted Sister crossed with a rooster materializes out of the game and into the real world. His name is Trickster, and his job is to show up every now and then to goad Michael. His first visit is the most fun, however, as he starts dancing around Michael's room before disappearing. In this stretch also, however, is where Michael has to start generally freaking and this is where the fact that Edward Furlong can't really act comes to the forefront—and stays there. When he is supposed to be upset he just raises his voice and squints, making him found like a goose that got its foot stepped on.

SPOILERS > > >
I'm getting almost as bored with this review as I did with the movie. Michael tries to bury the foot in the smoky, smoky woods, but a dog takes it and runs off with it. I guess if you were 14 you might never have seen something like that in a movie before. Then Trickster shows up to pressure him to play disc two, which he finally does, leaving a video camera running to show himself at home in his chair, should any murders occur. He introduces the video by saying "My name is Michael, I'm 16 years old and I'm scared." Later he watches the video, and the first thing it shows once he goes under the game is—his getting up and leaving! Then he finds Kyle's pendant in his house and what do you know, Kyle is DEAD! And detective Frank Langella is nosing around, and starts getting more and more suspicious of Michael. Then follows a whole nighttime skulking sequence, more repeats of essentially the same with Trickster, a climax in Kimberly's bedroom [not THAT kind of climax], and an ending in which Kyle comes back to life, reminding us at once how very irritating he was, and how preferable it was when he was dead.
< < < SPOILERS END

Oh God, the pain. THE PAIN! This was horrible. I sort of expected a amusing young adult horror movie in the vein of Pulse [the one with Joey Lawrence, not the Japanese one remade in the States with Kristen Bell], or some video game-based thing along the lines of Cloak and Dagger. Instead you get that young adult stuff along with inexplicable gore, making it seem as though the movie was targeted at under-18 teenagers who would find a way to watch it anyway. I can see where if you were 14 and you saw this young teen film with all this adult gore in it you might think it was the most awesome thing ever. However, as an adult—ugh. In the 80s, movie kids were still generally kids, but by the 90s they had started to be conceived of as "cool," which means they, like Kyle here, wear leather jackets and flannel shirts tied around their waists, and have annoyingly snide nasal voices and speak in all sort of irritatingly "hip" speak. Maybe if you grew up with these types you wouldn't be so irritated by them, but I just found them tedious from the start.

And the story just doesn't go much of anywhere interesting. The whole thing about whether if you kill in the game it happens in reality, the whole blurring of reality and fantasy—SO not interesting as presented here. If you want to see it done effectively, watch eXistenZ. Trickster seems like some 90s convention related more to what the filmmaker's thought might track as scary or interesting to 90s teens, but not as anything they actually found scary or interesting. Aside from that, none of the kids can act well enough to make some of these deficiencies less glaring. Maybe if they'd left the gore out I would watch it more as a kids' movie, but I don't think it's that. I think it's just really poorly written, poorly acted and poorly made. By the end I was fast-forwarding, but couldn't go fast enough. Dreck.

Should you watch it: 

I would do my best to avoid it if you can.