Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Almost Human (2013)

Almost Human is a weird movie. It’s not the best, but certainly not the worst. When it premiered, it seemed as though the horror community adored it, and why wouldn’t they? A good 3/4th of it is an homage to other horror films that director Joe Begos was clearly influenced by. The story concerns itself with Seth Hampton, who witnessed the abduction of his friend, Mark Fisher, by aliens. Two years later, Mark returns, and Seth begins having psychic visions of his brutal massacre across the Main countryside, only to realize that he has a more nefarious agenda. Ultimately, Almost Human is not strange or terrifying enough to be lasting, but not entirely generic to pass up on. I can understand why a lot of people enjoyed it. It’s a rare species of horror that should be observed and enjoyed at a distance. Any attempt at finding a deeper meaning will only result in profound bewilderment.

As aforementioned, Almost Human seems like a what’s-what of homage. Almost every other scene is a reference to previous works of horror. That’s not a bad thing. One can make a game out of spotting these subtle or no-so-subtle references. Some citations are so faint; you might not even notice them on the first viewing. Here are some of the most obvious. I will not spoil all of them, and please be aware that they may spoil the movie:

THE X-FILES, perhaps on imagery alone. Am I grasping for straws, here?

THE THING, not just in the manner of which our killer “screams” in, but the soundtrack shares the same pulse-pounding beat as the classic Ennio Morricone score.

XTRO. Both films share the same story of a man coming back from an alien abduction to rebuild his former relationship. Both main characters share a psychic bond with the abducted, and some scenes are directly lifted from those in Xtro. 

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. You’ll understand when you hear it.




And Cronenbergian body horror.

Some reviewers have cited nods to The Terminator, Halloween, Re-Animator, Videodrome, Jeepers Creepers, American Werewolf in London, and Fire in the Sky to name a few. Indeed, all these references are in the movie. Perhaps this may be the biggest contributing factor to Almost Human’s replay value.

Almost Human is a film that, as I learned the further along I got, is structured so that the characters, and their relationships with one another, don’t necessarily matter.  Nevertheless, every film needs to have a “main character,” and unfortunately our main character, Seth, isn’t all that interesting or engaging. Nor is Mark’s ex, for that matter. This would be fine if the focus was on Mark. As an audience, we identify more with Seth, and the story seems empathetic to this plight. But as it was executed, the film is more concerned with Mark’s mission to find his ex, rather than Seth. Mark, despite being cold and stone-faced, displays more character than the rest of the cast. It’s okay to have a very prominent villain, as was the case in Xtro and The Terminator, but our hero should be at least somewhat developed (Xtro) or relatable (The Terminator). 

Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Mark is our “main character.” If that’s the case, why, then, do we spend so much time with Seth and Jen (Mark’s ex), and their pointless relationships with each other, and their co-workers? You know what could have made this a smidge bit better? What if we show Seth and Jen’s relationship grow as the result of being ruthlessly pursued by Mark? They don’t have to fall in love, but it’s established that, as the result of Mark’s abduction, they distanced each other quite a bit. Maybe after being forced together through tragedy, they begin to rekindle that friendship they once had. Horror shouldn’t be completely mindless.  

The strangest aspect of this film, and what produces its bizarre quality, is the acting. Once more, Josh Ethier (Mark) seems to be the only person trying to deliver a real performance while the rest of the cast act as though they were in a Corman movie. There are line deliveries that are laughably bad, terribly forced swearing, all the while feeling as though the actors were aware of their schlocky performances. Maybe they genuinely thought they were in a campy lackluster. It’s so odd because the rest of the film is played very straightforward. Every time Seth had a melt down over his psychic visions, I kept waiting for him to break the fourth wall by winking to the camera.

With all this bitching aside, it should be reiterated that the film is not bad. To carefully explain the film’s problems requires clarification. Fortunately, the best assets Almost Human has to offer are quite prominent. Aside from the homage, the film is utterly relentless in its violence. Mark can be a contender for the best slasher in the past ten years. Like the Terminator, he kills without remorse. Though, unlike a machine, he doesn’t kill efficiently or ‘clean;’ he grabs an axe and swings it at someone’s head, or repetitively jabs someone’s neck with a hunting knife! Considering this is part alien movie, there are some truly disgusting moments involving pod-people, dismemberment, nudity, and grisly alien impregnations. The best part of all this? It would appear that everything was created with splendid practical effects. Though the gore is minimal, there is just enough to wet any gorehound’s whistle. Gore and gruesome effects should be savored; just enough to give us a taste, but not substantial enough to quench our hunger for more.  

This is not a typical sci-fi/horror flick, and for that it does deserve some merit. The effects are wonderful, at least one actor was giving 110%, and I’m sure writer/producer Joe Begos understands and loves horror movies. This was a noble attempt. It’s not perfect. Sadly, the film’s fate lies within the realm of other forgotten titles. I recommend it only because it’s a rare breed, and it’s certainly unique for its kind. If you are looking for a very similar story, I suggest Xtro instead. Still, I believe Begos has potential, and we should keep an eye out for future projects.