This year's Fantasia Fest is shaping up to be another fantastic display of genre cinema from around the world.
Get ready for a lot of blood.
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.
Almost Human. 2013. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier, Vanessa Leigh, Susan T. Travers, and Anthony Amaral III. IFC Midnight.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
While this was made in 2013 and released in certain areas, this didn’t make its way to Canada until 2014, so it’s one of my favourite films of the past year. Though, I’m sure many will have their own issues with this film directed by Joe Begos (his first feature), this is one of the best alien abduction films in the past decade. It’s a lower budget independent film, but it packs all the solid punch of a really great big budget sci-fi thriller.
Almost Human tells us of the disappearance of Mark Fisher, who is sucked into the sky by a mysterious blue light, as he leaves behind a helpless lover and his best friend Seth (Graham Skipper). Almost two years later, lights in the sky appear just as they did that fateful night. All of a sudden, Seth’s small town suffers a rash of brutal killings possibly perpetrated by one man. It turns out Mark has come home. While he may be almost human, he is still far from it. He came back to take what’s his, and to help his abductors begin a reign of terror on planet earth.
Yes, there are a few instances where the acting in Almost Human is not perfect. I don’t always need an indie film to have stellar acting. I can’t handle bad acting, and there wasn’t any here, but certainly a few scenes could have been played better with more experienced actors. That being said, none of these small moments ruin anything in the long run. They do nothing to subvert the tension or the horror in any way. There’s just a couple “oops” moments where you’ll probably think to yourself they should have done another take or two – unfortunately, that’s not always hot things work, especially when it comes to indie film. Whereas some may think these bits detract from the overall film, they don’t. Just a few minor bumps in the road. Begos put together a really awesome little cast. The lead actors had chemistry together, and that’s one of the most important things. The opening scenes were really great suspenseful, tense moments and this really shows how well the cast work together, at their best.
I admire any film that tries to go for something less typical. While there are a few shots in this movie that will no doubt remind you of other alien abduction films, mostly it is some really fresh material. For instance, I know people will think of Fire in the Sky particularly, as that’s probably one of the greatest alien abduction films out there. Period. But this really takes on a much different angle, where the aliens aren’t merely abducting humans – they’re beaming them up and essentially arming them to go back to earth and either destroy or reproduce. Not only that, there are a few incredible effects that were very effective in making this a different film than the norm. One of the craziest moments is when Mark finally gets hold of his former girlfriend Jen – alien Mark latches onto her between the legs in order to fertilize her with the some more little alien babies. This was just wild and disturbing. The men are given similar treatment, but not anally, just through the mouth. I don’t know what that says about Begos or the aliens, but either way I thought it was a really unsettling and scary way to play out. It was bad enough watching Mark suction his alien mouth onto some of the men he implanted – this moment is just WHOA. I love it though, as sick as it is, because the whole thing works. This is a horrorshow for alien fanatics.
I’ve got no problems giving Almost Human a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Sometimes it frustrates me when people respond the way they do to new, fresh ideas. While this is a tale we’ve sort of seen before, it’s still different. We have a few movies dealing with aliens taking human form and hunting down actual humans, or just aliens preying on humans in general (everything from Predator to The Hidden), but this plot is really spectacular and original, as opposed to so many formulaic alien films. There are some incredible effects, which really drives things along in an alien-themed horror film. A lot of the ways people envision aliens are extremely played out, but Begos opts to mostly show the aliens in terms of them commandeering human bodies; we get their sounds, their bodies (the suction cup mouth-thing), all that sort of stuff, while the aliens are still inside human forms. So in that way, Begos doesn’t have to go ahead and give us any full-fledged looks at one of the aliens. This way, the budget isn’t overblown, and playing into the title, makes things much more human.
I’d recommend any fans of alien abduction films check this out. There are some fresh bits in here you don’t want to miss out on, and I think there are also a lot of great horror elements to make this a must-see. This is a great throwback to older horror movies, as well. It has a retro feel without really trying to pursue it – the whole mood and atmosphere sort of falls into place with everything else, all on its own. Begos is a talented young filmmaker. I hope he’ll continue to try and bring innovative ideas into horror – whether they be totally original, or interesting twists on familiar stories. Regardless, this shows a lot of potential. It also deserves a much higher rating than it has online, as well as deserves more praise in general. Great alien horror fun! Plus, the end was pretty savage. Some may call it typical, but it was pulled off better than most who go for the same sort of finale.