By Robert Koehler 

Viewed strictly as a vehicle for Carice van Houten, who had a fine European film career for herself before all the world began to know her as Game of Thrones’ Red Queen, Instinct is a serviceable entry on the actor’s resume, but, as a credible psychodrama that pits a therapist against her imprisoned patient, it does a disservice to just about everyone else—and by the end of the ridiculous plot’s unwinding, even van Houten isn’t left unscathed.

Playing psychologist Nicoline, who engages in talking sessions with prisoners who are on the cusp of their release, van Houten telegraphs fairly loudly that Nicoline has problems of her own. Thus, we have the oldest of chestnuts: Physician, heal thyself. In this case, it’s a basic case of Nicoline resisting being turned on at the sight of swarthy bad-boy inmate Idris (Marwan Kenzari), who hardly hides his own desires. It’s a wonder that these two don’t jump each other right there in the prison’s makeshift office.

The drama in director Halina Reijn’s screenplay, co-written with Esther Gerritsen, comes down to the forces of temptation, and whether and how they should be resisted. It could all be at least an interesting acting exercise for van Houten and Kenzari, who do indeed work up some steam, but even an extended, 20-minute two-hander sequence dissipates long before it’s over. The conclusion is foreordained, as if the movie is caught in a moral vise grip.

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