Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Almost Human: What Happens in Maine

As an independent station way up in northern Maine, Channel 83 is not exactly the fast track to a network career, but they know how to cover mysterious disappearances. Thanks to an unearthly entity, they can look forward to some salad days in Joe Begos’ throwback 1980’s style sci-fi slasher flick, Almost Human (trailer here), which releases this Friday in Los Angeles and on VOD.

Something in the Maine woods chased Seth Hampton to his buddy Mark Fisher’s cabin. Initially, the outdoorsman dismisses Hampton’s panic, but it turns out the alien force prefers the burly Fisher.  After a flash of blue light and piercing tone, Fisher is sucked out of the house, leaving Fisher’s girlfriend Jen Craven and the guilt-ridden Hampton behind. For a while, the police key in on Hampton as their prime suspect, a development the confused Craven does little to discourage.  However, no evidence can be found to implicate Hampton.

Two years later, Hampton tries to live a quiet life as the town weirdo, but he is plagued by disturbing visions of similar horrors. We soon learn Fisher has returned, or at least the shell of his body under alien control. As he preys on Maine’s backwoodsmen, Hampton and Craven reconcile, hoping to find some answers and a bit of closure. Not so fortunately, the malevolently mutated Fisher soon comes looking for Craven.

Throughout Almost Human, Begos deliberately goes for a low budget retro-eighties look, much like Ti West did with House of the Devil, except even grubbier. Frankly, it seems strange to emulate the look of 1980’s straight-to-video horror, when it is so easy for genre fans to find the genuine article. Still, he shows a flair for inventive gore, but the narrative is defiantly workaday stuff.

Arguably, the work of Graham Skipper and Josh Ethier are also a cut above those typically found in 80’s grind ‘em outs. Skipper (whom some might recognize from the Off-Broadway production of Re-Animator: the Musical) is actually quite engaging as the everyman Hampton trying to hold onto the last shred of his sanity.  Conversely, Ethier (who also doubled as editor and co-producer) is an interesting looking heavy, whom we can sort of buy into as a hardscrabble one-man version of Jack Sholder’s under-appreciated The Hidden.

In a way, the consistency of Begos’ no-frills vision is quite impressive (right down to the old school UHF news reports we see from the fictional Channel 83), but a little goes a long way. Ultimately, Begos just defrosts some red meat leftover from the 1980’s (admittedly a great decade) rather than pulling together a nourishing feast.  Serviceable as a midnight movie, but nothing viewers will carry with them after the show, Almost Human opens this Friday (2/21) in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema and next Wednesday (2/26) in New York at the IFC Center.