I saw Joe Begos’s Almost Human here in Chicago a couple of years ago when he and star/editor Josh Ethier were touring with it. It was a refreshing throwback to the sci-fi horror films of the 80s. It featured some great practical effects, some crazy plot elements (in a good way), and some real fear to boot. His latest, The Mind’s Eye, adds to Begos’s indie throwback cred with nods to early Chronenberg and 80s films like Firestarter and Dreamscape (among others). How does it stack up to Almost Human and the very films that inspire the young director, you ask? Well, read on!
Zack Connors just wants to lay low and keep to himself. That plan is thrown in the garbage when he has a rather unique run-in with police. See, Zack is a powerful telekinetic. He lets loose on the cops in a fit of frustration and anger but he is brought into the station despite his ability to easily toss them aside and walk away. (i don’t mean that like, ‘wtf, he could crush them!’. i mean it like, ‘he could crush them, but he’s a good guy so he restrains himself’) Word of the extra-normal event gets back to Dr. Slovak, a man who runs a retreat/clinic for telekinetic folks. He claims that he can help Zack and those like him harness and control their powers so they don’t have violent outbursts like the one Zack just had with the police. Zack isn’t interested until Slovak tells him that a friend (more than friend?) is at the clinic. He acquiesces and endures a prison-like existence and mysterious injections and blood draws without ever seeing his friend, Rachel (Lauren Ashley Carter). His anger comes to a head and he makes a play to find Rachel and escape the place. But Dr. Slovak has other plans for Zack and he’s unlocked the secret to telekinesis to become a powerful psychic foe.
Begos has crafted another loving homage to (presumably) his favorite films. The Mind’s Eye is a pastiche of a few 80s sci-fi horror cult classics. And it’s a fun, nostalgic ride. The actors put on a thin layer of cheese (in a good 80s way) as they growl and spit lines; the good guy is a brooding loner; the bad guys are uni-dimensionally bad; shadowy organizations are nefarious; and so on. All of your favorite 80s genre film hits. And the effects! Begos has thankfully favored practical effects again. The best effects in this film are gleefully practical. (i know that doesn’t mean anything. keep reading) I got the sense that Begos and crew had a blast writing/designing/executing the over-the-top practical effects. That bit of filmmaking fun breeds a sense of personal connection with the audience. We love those 80s movies too, Joe! We’re a part of this! There’s no denying the fun that can be had by genre enthusiasts. But what about general audiences? Well, this movie may not resonate with them nearly as much. What I see as deliberate (though fairly restrained) cheese, could be seen as B-movie ineptitude. Further, the one-dimensional characters, goofy logical leaps, and the all-too-familiar tropes all add to this problem. It’s basically the equivalent of an inside joke. Even, those in on the joke may find it a bit tiresome if they are familiar with Almost Human. Begos has given us more of the same – 80s sci-fi horror homage. It’s great to stick with what you know, but the “refreshing” (see above) feeling we got watching that film cannot be applied this one. One last thing – did you notice that I specifically mentioned that Lauren Ashley Carter is in this film? She’s becoming a bit of an indie horror mainstay with roles in The Woman, Jugface, Pod, and Darling. (and, obviously, The Mind’s Eye) She’s a reliably solid actress with a unique look who has demonstrated that she has range. She is entirely under-utilized in The Mind’s Eye. I don’t know if there is a story behind it or what (budget? cut scenes?) but Carter should have more lines and more screentime. At least enough to give us a little bit of her character’s backstory. Perhaps that too is deliberate though. 80s sci-fi horror isn’t known for its deep characters after all.
The Final Cut: The Mind’s Eye is a fun throwback sci-fi horror homage, filled with over-the-top practical effects that will make you yell, “FUCK YEAH!” and applaud your screen (even if you’re by yourself). Unfortunately, the 80s sci-fi horror elements/tropes may wear thin for some viewers.
Bonus content: Begos and whomever he works with on marketing have been knocking it out of the park in the poster design department. Look at that gorgeous thing!