What’s it About?
Mark Fisher disappeared from his home in a brilliant flash of blue light almost two years ago. His friend Seth Hampton was the last to see him alive.
Directed by Joe Begos
Young Director Joe Begos apparently knows influential sci fi/horror movies inside and out. Especially the older, cooler stuff that was made during the 1980’s. He definitely knows the good, the bad and the ugly. His short retro throwback indie, called “Almost Human,” is, in it’s essence, a very endearing love letter to the films that made up that bygone age of 80’s schlocky B movies. Shit, Begos even made sure the movie even looked like one during post with earthy tones and hues. (I have yet to hear the director’s commentary but I have heard it’s a cool listen). Begos’ film is neither contrived or pretentious. It is a neat and simple affair that is deeply rooted in the mythos and lore of more respectable and more approachable genre entries. The movie is a type of heirloom and it relishes in knowing what it is. Begos makes sure that if he is to steal, then he should steal from the best, no?
Begos has the directing chops for this kind of low budget ambition. Where a film with a ton of more money and of a higher brow conceit, would mostly overshadow a little flick this one. For one to really enjoy “Almost Human,” one definitely needs to know where Begos and his cast and crew are coming from. The material is completely derived from various cinematic places in what is a virtual who’s who of modern (and some classic) sci fi movie canon. You name the film, it’s in here. You can just check off every wink, nod and reference to all of the neat sci fi thrillers that came before Begos’ film. In this context, knowing all of this, the movie is kind of fun. This way, instead of rolling your eyes and exclaiming that you recognize what you’re watching from some other movie, the film retains some charm and you may feel less inclined to dismiss it.
Starting with a young man named Seth (Graham Skipper), pounding on the door of his friend Mark’s (Josh Ethier) house, Begos builds up some required tension. Seth frantically tells Mark that something has taken one of their mutual friends in a “bright blue light.” Here we start the ball rolling with counting off where we have seen this all before. Hmm…”Fire in the Sky?” Anyway, after freaking out Mark and his girlfriend, Mark pulls out his shotgun and before he gets to confront what appears to be a disturbance outside his home, a high pitched tone entrances him. Something alien seems to be in control and just when Mark walks outdoors just outside of his front door, he gets zapped by, you guessed it, a bright bluish light.
Using very familiar white title cards on black for a long opening credit sequence that competently rivals John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness,” the movie takes on a “talking head” journey using Romero-esque journalists describing various odd events that took place that very night (in a town called “Derry” no less, where one character actually says “that wicked sucks!”). Also, showing us the aftermath of what happened and how it affects Seth, who insists he is innocent, and that there was no foul play involved with Mark’s disappearance. Cut to 2 years later and Seth is troubled by nightmares and Derry is once again plagued by strange lights in the sky and power outages. Meanwhile, 2 hunters come across Travis Walton, I mean, Mark, naked in the woods. He is covered in goo and belts out a shriek that puts the pod people to shame.
So, Mark is back and he ain’t quite right, folks. Where has he been for 2 years? Mars? Jupiter? Lanulos? Iceland? Be glad that Begos keeps the action and pace moving because under scrutiny, any credibility “Almost Human” retains just evaporates. What follows is a “Mark-thing” killing spree of funky, splattery, alien impregnation mayhem utilizing a slasher film’s random aesthetic. AH has it’s fair share of gun-play and chainsaw havoc, too. Yep, it’s gross, but like I said, Begos is going for the gut here with that throwback vibe using great practical FX. He also has a very spare visual flow (Begos served as DP using a RED cam effectively. There is a lot of hand held work here) ) and it is suitable for this type of nightmarish outing. In it’s quieter moments, the movie has a couple of nice flourishes. Mark-thing having a flashback to his abduction night as he approaches the home he used to live in is one.
But, as with so many films of this type, you have to take the bad with the good. The acting is laughable (there is a diner scene with Seth and Mark’s girlfriend that is cringe worthy), the dialog is horrendous and the characters are flat and boring (Seth’s boss, Clancy, fares better while being the only real and earnest person in the movie). Begos’ strength is reflected more in the technical aspects of the production rather than the story and characterizations. Begos capably keeps the action in flow and he can stage confrontations well but some of the unintentionally funny and banal interaction between all of the players feels very stiff and prosaic.
“Almost Human” will not please many folks looking for something that is fresh and unique in this genre. It copies way too many other movies like Alien, Halloween, Evil Dead, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the movie almost feels like a remake of this one), Species, I can go on and on. Begos’ movie is just way too reverential to achieve that goal (there is even a score that sounds eerily like Morricone’s The Thing).
The film never gets a chance to establish it’s own identity or exclusivity. The story is extremely mired down in what appears to be homage and I find it quite distracting sometimes. I respect the back to basics approach of late with some of these genre entries and I feel that tried and true dynamics can be very helpful. Begos knows how to get the most he can with what he has to work with, and he is ambitious, but I’m confused. I don’t understand his motivations sometimes. What type of movie is he actually trying to make, here? I get the tribute and loyalty thing but something in the story and style just does not have the charm and individuality it could have. Does Begos even realize that his movie is this imprinted? He must know that the movie heavily clones other works, no?
The film started really decently but I must say that it feels like the cast and crew over-extended the capacity to make the movie more than just an adoration piece. Like I said earlier, if you know where Begos is coming from, then you may have a nice time with “Almost Human” but that wasn’t enough for me to really like and enjoy the film as a complete whole.
You could do worse on a Saturday night if you want a quick and gory sci fi thriller with a frenzied last act (cut from the same cloth as The Omen, no less) to dissect it’s adulation to other movies it is obviously influenced by. Check it out if you’re curious only, but if a movie of this pedigree appeals to you as a fan of the movies it mimics then it isn’t a total loss.
Vic’s Note: “Almost Human” is currently available on Netflix Instant Streaming in HD. Enjoy!