Cult Corner: Mad Genius (2018) - Reviewed

Mad Genius (2018) is a science-fiction drama about a computer hacker named Mason who, with the help of his friend Finn, who happens to be a mental projection only Mason can see, tries to hack the human mind. The plot is unfocused and quite dull, however the direction is so high energy and creative that the movie becomes weirdly compelling. I wanted to see what visual writer-director Royce Gorsuch was going to throw at us next. It is not good, but I admire the willingness to try almost anything to keep this story moving. Though it is ultimately unsuccessful, I was never bored.

The film stars Chris Mason as the frustrated Mason and Scott Mechlowicz as the confident Finn. Since Mason may very well be crazy and Finn only exists in his head, there is the risk that both actors would push their performances toward the top. Interestingly, Gorsuch and his leads have decided to keep things surprisingly realistic. Mason allows his concern to build so that his reactions are consistently believable. Meanwhile, Mechlowicz, who is actually pretty funny in the role, plays Finn like the best friend you know is a bad influence on you, but you want him around anyway because he understands you like no one else does. Their dynamic is enjoyable to watch.

The story itself? Not so much. It never really explores Mason’s instability or precisely what his plan is. The concept of someone like Mason trying to fix humanity is an intriguing one, but Mad Genius does not develop that idea clearly or effectively enough for it to carry the plot. Getting in the way are several supporting characters whose existence distracts from the central narrative without adding a lot to the film. They bring with them a couple of extra story threads that never entirely pay off in a way that makes them worthwhile. While the main relationship is entertaining, the movie is unable to settle on what it wants to say about it.

Although its story is a little too confused, Gorsuch definitely knew what he wanted his production to look like. The way he visualizes Finn is very clever. In Mason’s mind, Finn has the freedom to be anywhere and Gorsuch takes full advantage of this. He can be on one side of the room before suddenly showing up on the other. He can disappear and reappear at will. He occasionally even flickers like a fading image on a computer screen. It is always made obvious exactly what Finn is, which also serves as a reminder of Mason’s mental state. That stuff is cool, as are Mason’s various visions. But they do not really add up to much. 

Mad Genius is the best kind of failure; one of ambition. There is a lot here to appreciate, even if the overall movie does not work. It certainly makes me excited to see what Royce Gorsuch has in store for his second feature. Because when he is able to put everything together, the result could be something special.

--Ben Pivos