Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Horror returns home in Joe Begos' super-low-budget trifle, ALMOST HUMAN

Rhode Island stands in for Maine, not that most viewers will care or notice, in ALMOST HUMAN, the new horror/slasher/sci-fi debut of filmmaker Joe Begos, who has here concocted yet another variation on Invasion of the Body Snatchers that, of course, cannot begin to top the calm creepiness of Don Siegel's brilliant original. As both writer and director, Mr. Begos -- shown two photos below and looking barely out of middle school -- seems more interested in using what little special effects budget he had toward bright blue lights, loud
sound effects and visual electricity outages, as we see one character, a fellow named Mark (rotund actor Josh Ethier, who looks as if he might do comedy rather well), swept up into the sky in the middle of all that cacophony and icy blue shine.

Suddenly it's something like two years later, and one day a couple of hunters in the woods come upon Mark's naked body, encrusted in a kind of gelatinous goo (and the most interesting of all the various special effects we'll see in this movie). Mark has returned, it seems, except he is not quite himself, quickly and gorily dispatching those hunters and then anyone else he comes upon during his journey back home. Yes, Mark is the title character here, as are some others whom he changes along his merry, bloody way.

Begos uses his special-effects money in this section toward all gore, all the time, which grows a little tired rather quickly. Toward the end of his barely-80-minute movie, however, he comes up with some more interesting semi-creature effects which, though we've seen their like elsewhere, at least provide a respite from the blood-letting.

In the meantime, characters such as our hero, Seth, played at max speed with eyes a-popping pretty constantly by Graham Skipper (above) and our heroine Jen, (Vanessa Leigh, below), try to outrun, outgun and outwit our new resident alien.

In addition to the gore, there's some real tension here, a little humor, and an occasional surprise, and one can indeed marvel at Begos' ability to put it all together relatively effectively. Still one questions some little things: Why does Seth need to possess ESP (this is totally irrelevant to anything else and is used only to ratchet up some fake suspense). And how do you "hurt" these new beings? (Mark is shot in the head, knifed and then gets an axe in his back to no avail, but a little later his hand gets hurt and suddenly he grows awfully weak.)

So Almost Human remains pretty much a been-there, done-that exercise that, one hopes, will lead to some more interesting films from Begos down the road apace. The movie, from IFC Midnight, was supposed to have opened theatrically this Friday, February 21, in New York City and Los Angeles at the very special little Arena Cinema.  Update: The film will indeed open at the Arena, as planned at the same time as it receives a VOD release -- but I've just been informed that Almost Human will not open in New York City until Wednesday, February 26, here at the IFC Center. So if this one sounds appealing to my New York readers, stick it on your list for next week.

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