'Mind Cage': Film Review | Filmart 2018

Courtesy of Khyal Production.
Science versus séance.

A shaman tears a disbelieving psychiatrist's family apart in Cambodia-based Indian director Amit Dubey's feature debut.

Revolving around a rural fiend's pursuit for revenge against a middle-class professional whose self-righteous act landed him incarcerated, Indian director Amit Dubey's thriller could be readily described as Cape Fear on the Mekong. Produced by Jimmy Henderson, who has already made three genre movies (the comical action-thriller Hanuman, the horror-romance of The Forest Whispers and the martial-arts spectacle of Jailbreak) in Cambodia, Mind Cage also showcases the visual and technical opportunities the Southeast Asian country now offers to foreign and local filmmakers.

Having already made its debut at the Cambodia International Film Festival last March, Dubey's first feature will now make its bow at market screenings at Hong Kong's Filmart, where it is represented by the Cambodian Film Commission. Simple in its story and visually enticing given its modest budget, Mind Cage should be able to follow Henderson's titles and land a few berths at fantasia-themed festivals seeking the alternative versions of genre filmmaking.

Channeling Robert De Niro's Max Cady, complete with oily shoulder-length hair and a body covered with tattoos, Rous Mony (Ruin, The Last Reel) plays Mony, a feared exorcist who would put supposedly "possessed" individuals in cages for days on end — a tough modus operandi which leaves villagers bristling with fury. Enter Sarin (Keo Ratha), an affluent city-dwelling psychiatrist who intervenes and manages to "cure" an epileptic with a simple injection.

Immediately branded as a charlatan, Mony is beaten up and put in a cage as punishment. Freeing himself from the confinement and then exacting violent revenge against the villagers who lashed out at him, the shaman departs for the capital Phnom Penh with the sole aim of tearing Sarin's life apart. Locating the psychiatrist's whereabouts, he begins to mess with his house, his transgender patient Bambi (played by the actor known as Ta), his spoiled teenage daughter Nila (Sarita Reth) and his pregnant wife Vanny (Sveng Socheata).

Throughout the proceedings, Mony remains in control, as Sarin struggles to contend with what's happening to him and why. After yet another brutal act befalling a loved one, the psychiatrist actually turns inward on himself and mutters, "I don't know how we got here" — despite the fact that he obviously knows who's been tracking him for weeks and why. While this could be taken as an example of flawed characterization in Dubey and co-writer Michael Hodgson's screenplay, one could also see this as a stab at how Sarin and similarly well-off individuals have cut themselves off from the traditions and experiences of the common people.

Just like a protagonist in a classical film noir, Sarin begins the film as a haughty guy whose insistence in not paying house visits has led to a poor provincial patient killing himself. To him, the countryside exists only as a breeding ground for sickness or an exotic picture on the wall of his luxurious villa — within which he indulges himself and his family with all mod cons and more. In a way, Mony's revenge could be seen as a revenge against all this self-entitlement. But, of course, it could also simply be a convenient trope for a competent genre flick produced in a country bubbling with cinematic promise.

Production company: Khyal Production
Cast: Keo Ratha, Rous Mony, Sveng Socheata
Director: Amit Dubey
Screenwriters: Amit Dubey, Michael Hodgson
Producers: Marata Dubey, Ashish Banerjee, Sameer Dalal, Sumeet Goel, Gokul Govindu, Amit Aggarwal
Executive producers: Jimmy Henderson
Director of photography: Jimmy Henderson
Art director: Sayon Din
Costume: Mai Mao
Music: Krom Monster, Miss Sarawan Band
Editing: Amit Dubey
Venue: Filmart
Sales: Cambodia Film Commission

In Khmer
85 minutes