Friday, June 27, 2014

Almost Human Review

Almost Human Review

If you have been reading this blog long enough, you know how much I love horror. You also probably know how disenchanted I have been with the genre lately. Well, maybe disenchanted is not the right word. We have been graced with some effective horror films over the last few years if you go looking in the right direction. It just seems like it has been awhile since I have been scared out of my mind. I don’t mean to sound like a horror snob either; I don’t need every horror movie to force nightmares on me. Sometimes I just like tons of blood, tons of crazy killings and some beautiful women running scared. Sometimes I like thrilling, “holy shit!” moments over something that is going to traumatize me. It all depends on what mood I am in and what the film decides to deliver.

“Almost Human” is roaring homage to 1980’s slasher horror. When I call it a homage movie, I totally mean that in every sense of the word. As the opening credits roll, you will notice the font was the exact same font used in several John Carpenter movies of the era. The film is shot with a lush DI camera, giving the film an older look. Had I seen “Almost Human” without knowing any back-story about it, I would have thought it was made in the 1980’s due to the film’s groovy look. The film was made by first-timer Joe Bregos and even though the film was clearly made with a micro-budget, it is an effective, confident and rowdy horror film that will keep your eyes glued to the screen for the entirety of the film. Sometimes, there is nothing better than watching a first time film director throw down for the first time. I have no idea where Bregos’ career will go from here, but this truly a gracious start.

“Almost Human” features a very awesome pull as the film opens. We see Seth (Graham Skipper) driving a truck, trying to get to his friend Mark’s (Josh Ethier) house. Seth is frantic, he’s cursing the whole ride there, he is constantly looking over his shoulder. Whatever is going on with Seth, it is not good and it is apparently following him. Seth is freaking out the whole time once he arrives at Mark’s house. Seth was supposed to come to Mark’s house with a mutual friend named Rob, but according to Seth, Rob was taken by something in the sky. Mark is concerned, but he doesn’t fully believe that something beamed Rob into space. The ruckus of the two friends awakens Jen (Vanessa Leigh), Marks girlfriend. Suddenly, strange screeching noises come from outside the house, putting the trio into agonizing pain. All of a sudden, Mark walks outside, seemingly involuntarily. Then his body contorts while Seth and Vanessa are left screaming for him.

Two years pass, and Seth is still haunted by the events we just witnessed. Jen has moved on and found a fiancĂ©e. As Seth learns from news reports that lights are appearing in the night skies, he also begins to hear about a series of grisly murders. Meanwhile, two hunters come across a naked body, covered in strange goo, while they were scanning the woods.  The audience figures out that it is Mark, but Mark is clearly not himself. Seth and Jen begin to look deeper into the mystery of the murders, desperately trying to figure out if these stories are connected to what happened two years ago.

I think Graham Skipper is an almost perfect lead for a horror movie. He’s got the most perfect big eyes when something astounds or scares him, something makes the audience buy into the fear of what Seth is experiencing. He also comes off as frantic and crazy without overacting or over-simplifying anything. Skipper feels like human being the whole film and that makes it easier to identify with him. I think Josh Ethier is equally strong as Mark, and Ethier gets major kudos for not only starring in the film, but also editing and working on the sound design of the film. The sound effects are some of the most powerful devices in the whole film and Ethier uses them wisely.

I think Vanessa Leigh does excellent work as Jen, and liked that even though she is the “damsel in distress” type character, she is still a strong and independent character in the film. I also liked how daring Leigh was willing to be in the film. Leigh is involved in the film’s biggest “what the fuck?” moment, a scene that occurs near the end of the film. It is a scene you’ll discuss with your friends for weeks on end and had the film been a major theatrical release, it would have been the scene of the summer. You’ll know it when you see it, and I give Leigh major credit for not shying away from it. Highly exploitative material and strange material can turn many actresses off from a script and I like that Leigh was willing to do everything Bregos asked her to do. Each actor is catering to certain homage beats the entire film and they do well with them.

How clear the tribute to other films in “Almost Human” is also part of the problem. When I was doing some reading on the film before I watched it, Bregos mentioned in interviews that “Almost Human” was a mix between “Fire in the Sky” and “The Terminator” and that is an almost perfect way to describe the film. While mixing those two movies seems cool, it is also slightly uncreative. That is an idea I have noticed from many modern filmmakers these days. The audience can tell which directors are channeling which older films and that gets kind of distracting. I would much rather see a director take his influences and inspirations and make something unique and original out of them, instead of merely referencing those influences and inspirations.

No matter what, “Almost Human” is a great throw-back to 1980’s horror, and I think horror fans will enjoy the authentic feel of the movie. It is also a powerful statement from a first-time director. The cast is solid across the board, and there is plenty of blood and guts to make slasher fans happy.

FINAL GRADE: B- 

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