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The Mind’s Eye. 2016. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, Noah Segan, Matt Mercer, Michael A. LoCicero, Jeremy Gardner, Patrick M. Walsh, Brian Morvant, Josh Ethier, Susan T. Travers, & Chuck Doherty. Channel 83 Films/Site B.
Not Rated. 87 minutes.
Not sure how everybody else felt about it, but I loved the debut feature Almost Human from Joe Begos – it was on one of my favourite lists after being released in Canada finally. He proved to have a knack and a love for old school filmmaking, as well as the science fiction and horror pictures of a few decades ago. In that first film, Begos channelled a Fire in the Sky vibe into his own brand of retro horror with a fresh, exciting story. The Mind’s Eye bears its obvious Cronenbergian influence particularly right on its sleeve. Yet there’s so much more to it.
I knew just from the trailer that Begos was hugely influenced by Scanners. Not that he copies Cronenberg. Not at all. There’s a more personal, emotional plot that serves as foundation for The Mind’s Eye, as opposed to Scanners. Begos is focusing less on a metaphorical psychokinesis, much more on the action and horror elements. The pacing does most of that job, keeping us edgy the entire time. Again, after his fantastic debut, Begos proves that you can go over-the-top and still keep things satisfying. His science fiction-horror cocktail is better than the mere label of a throwback film, or any of the buzzword headlines you may read. It’s not perfect. However, it is everything the awful Scanners sequels could have been. Perhaps when Begos first saw it, this story began to brew in his mind, bit by bit. Until years later he’d fleshed out this entirely new tale of psychokinetic power and those who seek to control it. With Graham Skipper (also the star of Begos’ previous effort) and the ever wonderful Lauren Ashley Carter as the two main characters with psychokinetic powers, on the run from a doctor gone mad, the story sells itself through interesting performances and a load of practical, bloody goodness.
In his previous movie, Begos didn’t really have much action outside of some gunshots and frantic behaviour – not a bad thing. Mostly, it was straight up horror and sci-fi crossed together. Here we get to see him go for a different type of atmosphere. On one hand, Almost Human was great; it required different storytelling, a slow build of terror after the initial scene involving some alien craziness. On the other hand, The Mind’s Eye plunges into an action-oriented plot. As I mentioned, the pacing keeps everything pretty wild. We move along fast, as the main plot kicks in real quick. Essentially this is a road movie crossed with the sci-fi and horror elements in heaps. Or rather you could see it as a chase movie: a series of confrontational events stretching out over this insanely tense cat-and-mouse game between Zack and Rachel (Graham Skipper & Lauren Ashley Carter) and the doctor who tried to use them as guinea pigs, Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos). Of course there are sections of the story where we slow down, get a bit of character development. The awesome motherfucker that is Larry Fessenden plays Zack’s father, Mike Connors, so there are more than just the main characters to find interest in. These brief reprieves in the chaotic pace of the action are just long enough to make us feel settled. Before Begos rattles us down the drain again and into the rabbit hole. A great place to be with a filmmaker who so admires the age of practical effects, as opposed to one totally dominated by CGI and jump scares.
THE EXPLODED HEAD! THE FUCKING EXPLODED HEAD!
Can we talk about it?
I mean, that sequence came not at all as a surprise. And behold, a savage, perfectly executed practical effect. Better still, I love the moment before that when Rachel is holding the guy up in the air – with her mind – and then POP! Just properly accomplished all around. You combine wild practical effects, good doses of bloody mess, a truly enjoyable score from Steve Moore (The Guest, Cub), you’ve got yourself a stew, baby!
I have to say that while I loved Skipper in the other Begos film, he wasn’t always as strong as he could have been, or needed to be either. Still, I loved his performance because you can see the genuine effort in some actors. In the role of Zack you can literally see the maturity of his acting coming into being. That’s not a bullshit line to throw out there; it’s a genuine observation. For instance, the scene where he and Rachel sit together and he tells her about his mother, his performance reaches the perfect pitch. He is so believably real it makes the character grow all the more quickly, in the best sort of way. If you weren’t rooted in his story emotionally yet, this scene should cement that.
Oh, and Carter? She’s phenomenal, as usual. Most recently, her turn as a damaged woman on the verge of a breakdown in Mickey Keating’s Darling blew me away. But back to Jug Face, The Woman, even her one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, she is fairly consistent in her quality as an actor. Each character carries their own vulnerability yet are vastly different. As Rachel Meadows, she is another damaged character and this time with more than enough power to take whatever revenge she deems necessary. I like that Carter keeps what seems to be her inherent sweetness while simultaneously being capable of being a strong, determined woman – Rachel’s only in distress as much as Zack, so in a sense they both enable one another in certain ways. This also lets them each be a fully developed character, rather than simply a half of one whole. Carter’s charisma as a bit of a bad ass gets to come out here, which is lots of fun to watch.
A 4-star action romp across science fiction-horror territory. Begos may not have won everyone over with his first feature – he had me sold – but I just can’t believe that The Mind’s Eye won’t impress. It is exciting and fun above all else. The story isn’t overly innovative. Instead, Begos makes it feel fresh, intriguing. Because he takes the Scanners influence, all that love of the ’80s and early ’90s filmmaking, then moulds it into a tightly knit ball of tension and weirdness, in great ways. I’m not sold on the whole cast, although Skipper and Carter are so excellent. What I dig most is how the heart of the film beats loud and proud. Begos never pulls any punches, giving us exactly what we expect in such a way that isn’t boring or expected in the slightest. If you can’t have fun as a horror (or sci-fi or both) fan, then I’m not sure what to tell you. It never needed to be perfect. Part of the appeal of the ’80s and the early ’90s felt like things didn’t have to be totally polished, pristine like porcelain. Personally, I dig my movies with a bit of girt, in every sense. I’d like to think Begos understands that. At least that’s how he makes it feel. The Mind’s Eye gives its all with a ton of adrenaline and blood-soaked spirit.
Shivers. 1975. Directed & Written by David Cronenberg.
Starring Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele, Ronald Mlodzik, Barry Baldaro, Camil Ducharme, Hanna Poznanska, Wally Martin, Vlasta Vrana, Silvie Debois, Charles Perley, & Al Rochman. Cinépix/DAL Productions/Canadian Film Development Corporation.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Even if I love Alien to death and think it’s a masterpiece of cinema, the fact remains that Dan O’Bannon definitely saw David Cronenberg’s Shivers a.k.a They Came From Within. And not just that, he loved it. This was the original piece of dreadful science-fiction-horror that preyed upon an isolated environment, high up above everything else, a nearly self-contained atmosphere where a predator on the inside starts to take out the residents, one by one. Just like Weyland-Yutani were terraforming and the government or whoever were planning to use the Xenomorphs for sinister purpose, the creatures of Shivers were created for a purpose but then that purpose went terribly awry. Is it a coincidence then that the residential apartment complex where this film is set happens to be named Starliner? I’m not accusing O’Bannon of anything. He’s already been accused, anyways. I enjoy the little similarities because it shows the legacy and intrigue of Cronenberg. He is an important artist who dares to ask questions about human nature, the social effects of technology and medicine and more, as well as so many other things. Only his third feature, Shivers asks of us what the price of advancement is in terms of our social lives, as a whole in society. The more we isolate ourselves, jamming our life into smaller spaces so that we can cram more people in around us, the further at risk we put ourselves of becoming something entirely other. In that case, there is no progress, no evolution. We only evolve into something mindless, swallowed whole by a concern for economic and social status, consumed by our consumption. Through his trademark body horror Cronenberg explores the terrifying downfall of a society within society inside the Starliner apartment building, and much like J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, as well as the recent Ben Wheatley adaptation, this film depicts how a self-contained environment can eat itself alive
The big horror here is Cronenberg’s use of phallic, slug-like creatures to represent an invasion of otherness. Again, it is man-made. But it is other, a parasite. What we know know as typical Cronenberg comes here through those slugs squirming their way into the human body. Of course it happens many ways. However, the most eerie and prominent in this screenplay is sexual intercourse. These parasites drive the hosts sex crazy. One of the first women we see infected attacks a man and yells, terrifyingly enough: “I‘m hungry. Hungry for love!” Later, the most disturbing moment for me is when a family of three that were earlier stuck in an elevator are now infected, and they tackle a man; the little girl kisses him on the lips with her bloody mouth. This one scene really gets to me, as it is creepy anyways, but then with the girl kissing the man, the blood on her, the family all gone raving mad. It’s a sight to behold. Otherwise, Cronenberg does give us a few graphically pukeworthy practical effects, as the slugs slip out of mouths, flop out onto clear umbrellas leaving yucky streaks, one even slips its way up from a bathtub drain and between the legs of an unsuspecting woman (precursor to Craven’s famous bathtub scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street). So many effective, bloody little moments.
Amongst everything else, the symbolism of Cronenberg’s Shivers is what makes it a worthy and enduring piece of Canadian cinema. While there’s the invasion of otherness and becoming something else, there are more elements at play. The whole sexual angle of people just trying to ravish everyone, gone mental from lust, this comes to represent how the close proximity to the others in these buildings, jamming everybody together no matter if it’s high class suites or what is a recipe for social disaster. Essentially, it is the idea of assimilation, the conformity to a group norm and a way of life that’s accepted as singular. Because they’re not attacking each other like madmen and madwomen, they collectively seek out more people to pass the parasite onto. So it’s like this roaming group of social power, these parasitic citizens of the Starliner apartment complex gradually spreading their diseased love around until finally everybody has conformed, they all fit perfectly in their little boxed apartments(/compartments).
Also, if you want to go deeper, the idea of all these people living in a deluxe apartment complex sort of quarantined off from the rest of society can serve as a statement about how the upper class is sort of an incestuous group of people that perpetuate a system of disease amongst themselves by remaining sectioned away in their own little world. Not everybody here is big time rich or anything. But it’s a suburban residential building, so we’re certainly not talking about a rough neighbourhood. So the way these people descend into a madness of orgy and violence is a comment on how these people mingle only with their own kind, and anyone from outside – such as the man who worked with Dr. Hobbes, the original one guilt of scientific hubris by inventing the sex slugs – ends up killed. The new people, they’re simply indoctrinated and likewise infected with the parasitic, aphrodisiac slugs. So these types of cut-off suburban environments within societies only begets more isolation, in turn more madness.
That climactic scene where the Starliner’s own doctor, Roger St. Luc, who’d been fighting against the parasitic invasion this whole time finds himself being crowded and mauled in the pool with all the residents is a doozy. It is the epitome of the anxieties of the suburban social life, closed and boxed in, stuck into the cookie cutter frame with all the other mindless, sex-crazed, consumerist zombies. Honestly, there are few scenes in a film which get to me as deeply and have resonated as long-lasting as this one did. From the first time I saw this film about 12 years ago or so, it stuck. And watching it again now, especially where the kiss lands on St. Luc, similar to how the frame slows down on it like with the little girl earlier, the impact is just as weighty.
There are obviously flaws, as this is a low budget picture and also it was one of David Cronenberg’s first trio of feature films ever. With Shivers, he began to explore the physiological body horror that went on to become his trademark, and here his interest in the social life of humans started to really take off. In a disturbing, poignant fashion. Initially dismissed as completely useless, particularly after the CFDC and others were not happy about its content, Shivers has gone on to be better understood, also more appreciated by certain people. By no means perfect it has a unique charm. Moreover, it is effective body horror with plenty to please even some seasoned veterans of the genre.
Cronenberg is certainly king in the realm of body horror. Always. Forever.
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