We've seen the first few episodes of David Fincher's new Netflix serial killer thriller. Here are our thoughts
David Fincher knows serial killers.
At least, in terms of how to depict them on the big and small screen; we presume he doesn't know serial killers on a personal level. As far as we know, anyway...
From his second movie, the incredibly dark Se7en, and right through the rest of his career, including Zodiac and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, he has made a living out of getting under the skin of those who dedicate their lives to killing.
Even Amy Dunne in Gone Girl and Frank Underwood in House Of Cards aren't above a few murders, and if they don't exactly fall into the category of serial killers, they definitely have a body count behind them.
So when it comes to telling the true-life story of a pair of detectives who are attempting to deal with America in 1979 and a new breed of murderer that the country just isn't psychologically prepared to contend with, there is nobody better than Fincher to tell it.
We watched the first two episodes of Mindhunter, both of which were directed by Fincher, and his fingerprints are all over them. That sickly visual sheen is ever-present, as is the bracing violence and deep-end dive into the murky, almost impossible-to-predict waters of a damaged psyche.
Everything kicks off with Agent Holden Ford (played by Glee's Jonathan Groff) as he attempts to talk down a hostage-taker who believes that he has become invisible. When everything goes sideways, it kicks him off on a journey to better understand the mentality of serial killers, but with America still in the recovery position from horrors both abroad (The Vietnam War is still an open wound) and at home (The Manson Family left everyone confused and terrified), Groff's boss hears "understand" as "sympathize" and doesn't take to the idea at all.
When everything goes sideways, it kicks him off on a journey to better understand the mentality of serial killers, but with America still in the recovery position from horrors both abroad (The Vietnam War is still an open wound) and at home (The Manson Family left everyone confused and terrified), Groff's boss hears "understand" as "sympathize" and doesn't take to the idea at all.
Instead, Groff is paired off with Agent Bill Tench (played by Fight Club's Holt McCallany), who is giving speeches in different parts of America to police officers in how best to deal with potential serial killer situations.
It is during these trips that Groff hears about Edmund (played by relative newbie Cameron Britton), and Mindhunter suddenly stops fronting as a semi-biographical police procedural and morphs into a full-on psychological thriller.
Groff's interviews with Edmund are the backbone of what Mindhunter will become, as the two agents interview currently incarcerated serial killers in the hope of catching currently active ones, and if that sounds a little like The Silence Of The Lambs, keep two things in mind:
(1) Mindhunter is based on the true story of Agents John Douglas and Agent Robert Ressler, who actually did this for real back in 1979, and then just two years later, Thomas Harris published Red Dragon, the first book in which we were introduced to Doctor Hannibal Lector, and
(2) While The Silence Of The Lambs is a classic, Mindhunter will be heading off in a new direction by not tying the agents to just one locked-up interviewee, but a number of them, all based on real serial murderers (in the second episode, Groff semi-jokingly mentions that he wants to line up an interview with Charles Manson), all with their individual levels of unpredictability.
The chats with Edmund waver back and forth between something approaching comedy (albeit the darkest possible type of it) and properly terrifying horror, as he is such a well-spoken, seemingly gentle giant, but he talks about his killings with such bluntness and barely-restrained emotion that there is a constant underlying threat that at any moment he could just get bored of talking to Groff and snap his neck right then and there.
While the first two episodes feel like the show is just getting started, making sure the audience know where everyone is on the chessboard and why they're there, there is a very clear sense of where it is going next.
Groff and Hench are on the cutting edge of a new world, a world in which someone doesn't just kill their partner out of jealousy. No, this new world is full of strangers killing strangers, in increasingly depraved ways, in a manner that the majority of the world wants to pretend doesn't exist.
Mindhunter puts the viewers right on the psychological frontlines with the agents, and anyone who is a fan of Fincher's work will know that he doesn't hold back or mollycoddle. You'll be entertained, for sure. But you'll also be creeped out, completely rattled, and left with nothing else to talk or think about once you've seen it.
All ten episodes of Mindhunter are available on Netflix from Friday, October 13.