I used to have such a crush on Edward Furlong. So when I found Brainscan on demand, I decided to indulge in a bit of nostalgia.
Michael is just your average teenage outcast. He runs the horror movie club, has exactly one friend, is in love with the girl next door, and likes to play video games. After reading about a new game that promises to be the most immersive and intense gaming experience ever, Michael manages to get a copy mailed to him. The game, called Brainscan, is simple enough: Michael has to kill a man and get away unseen. Which he does. The following day, Michael learns that someone in his neighbourhood was killed and he realizes that he's not playing a game, but is being brainwashed into acting out. Michael doesn't want to keep "playing" but he's coerced by the enigmatic Trickster, who guides Michael through the game, to finish what he started lest he be convicted of murder.
Though somewhat dated, Brainscan belongs to the same category of movies as Weird Science, War Games, and Eagle Eye. Extrapolating on current (for the time) technological capabilities, these films blend fantasy and possibility to create a technology that's contemporaneous to but superior than our own. In the case of Brainscan, the outcome is one of mounting paranoia and fear as Michael's life spins out of control.
Apart from being psycho-techno-horror (which is sub-genre I just made up), Brainscan is also about surviving that common-to-all horror show, teenagedom. As Michael negotiates the police, he also has to deal with alienating his best and only friend, Kyle, while he moons over his crush, Kimberly. Michael's failure to maintain a normal teenage existence is exacerbated by his unwilling and unhealthy addiction to Brainscan.
Brainscan also touches on themes of parental abandonment. Michael's mother died long ago, and though he doesn't want for love from his father, his dad isn't present in the movie as he spends a lot of time away on business. Detective Hayden suspects that Michael's presumed homicidal tendencies are caused in part by a lack of parental supervision.
I don't want to give the impression that the movie is heavy handed. In fact, the opposite is true. Despite its themes of paranoia, addiction, and abandonment, the movie is not a downer and the very end is darkly humorous. In no way a cinematic tour-de-force, Brainscan is enjoyable and worth watching for the stupidly named but wholly compelling Trickster alone.
And Edward Furlong, of course.