Armed with more imagination than most thrillers with teen protags, Oz-U.K. co-prod “Like Minds” is an intriguing whodunit centered on two privileged British schoolboys with an unhealthy interest in the Knights Templar. Confidently controlling the fanciful central elements and a wrap-around investigation of grisly deeds attributed to the pair, frosh writer-helmer Gregory J. Read delivers a creepy puzzler that largely succeeds in keeping auds guessing to fade-out. Assisted by the casting of local drawing card Toni Collette, Down Under release Nov. 9 should serve as an encouraging tryout before its U.K. and U.S. rollout in early 2007.
Nerve center of the elliptical tale is a police interrogation room where 17-year-old Alex Forbes (Eddie Redmayne), has been charged with the murder of Nigel (Tom Sturridge), a fellow student Alex openly despised. Acting as if sudden confinement is a violation of his birth right, Alex appears indifferent to the gravity of his situation and impervious to the aggressive grilling of police inspector McKenzie (Richard Roxburgh).
With only circumstantial evidence, McKenzie calls in forensic psychologist Sally Rowe (Toni Collette) to secure a confession. As minute details of the fatal incident are revealed, the fiercely intelligent suspect denies any direct involvement before launching into stories of 13th-century Cathars being persecuted and how this relates to Nigel’s death being a “necessary” one that made it “seem like the gods were rejoicing.”
Everything, it seems, fits into Alex’s belief in Gestalt — the attainment of a unified whole that’s much more important than the sum of its parts. From this intriguing set-up, pic darts cleverly between Alex’s present-time psychiatric evaluation and flashbacks to his relationship with Nigel.
A brilliant student and a taciturn weirdo who enjoys dissecting animals, Nigel had identified himself and Alex as descendants of Knights Templars. Their mutual duty, he insists, is to carry out the ritualistic murder of schoolgirl Susan (Kate Maberly) and attain extraordinary powers in the process.
All this might come off as hokey if it weren’t for a well researched, well nutted-out screenplay that ping-pongs culpability from one boy to the other and casts further suspicion in several directions. Most potent of these is the manipulative role played by Alex’s ambitious father (Patrick Malahide), who’s also his headmaster and the member of a secret society.
With Roxburgh and Collette in secondary roles, Redmayne steps up to the plate with a chilling perf as the boy with psychopathic tendencies. Less effective is Sturridge — son of British helmer Charles Sturridge — whose sullen poutings suggest Nigel is more a spoilt child than a calculating young monster.
Filmed primarily on dank locations in Yorkshire, northeast England, with barely a hint of sunlight, pic exudes incubating menace. In harmony with lenser Nigel Bluck’s gray-blue widescreen palette are Carlo Giacco’s subtly applied brass-and-strings score and ace production design by Steven Jones-Evans.
Prominently featured upper-class boarding school betrays almost nothing of the modern age, making it a natural environment for ancient malevolence to take hold. Tech package is pro in all other departments.