02nd Aug2014

‘Almost Human’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Graham Skipper, Vanessa Leigh, Josh Ethier, Susan T. Travers, Anthony Amaral III, Michael A. LoCicero, Jami Tennille, Chuck Doherty, John Palmer, Mark O’Leary | Written and Directed by Joe Begos

almosthuman_TIFF

Mark Fisher disappeared from home in a blinding blue light flash. His friend Seth Hampton was the last person to see him alive. Two years later, a series of atrocious, grisly murders leads Seth to believe that Mark has somehow returned, but changed into something different, strange… not of this world. Mark has indeed become a humanoid alien receptacle for evil – and the last place you should look is in his cellar.

There are times when I sit down to watch a movie that I need to review in which I’m filled with dread, typically because the particular style of film or the (sub) genre doesn’t appeal – found-footage movies being my particular bane. Now I know I should approach movies with an open mind but oftentimes one just can’t help it. And that’s usually the case with alien abduction movies, the last of which I saw, The Fourth Kind, was a jumbled mess of flickering bulbs, lights in the sky, screaming people and talking heads spewing forth inordinate amounts of exposition. So in all honesty I wasn’t 100% sure what I was letting myself in for with Almost Human, the debut feature of writer/director Joe Begos – and that’s even knowing the film was a hit at Toronto Midnight Madness.

Of course as a fan of the 80s I couldn’t help but be charmed by the fantastic old-school poster but we all know posters, good or bad, are often no way indicative of the movie they’re promoting. In the case of Almost Human it seems the poster DOES reflect the quality of the movie! And thankfully it won’t take long for anyone to realise that Almost Human is not your typical alien abduction flick either. Oh no…

Begos’ feature instead uses the abduction premise, and all the cliches that come with that type of film, as the basis for an atmospheric slasher movie in the goriest of 80s traditions. But it’s not just slasher movies from which this film takes it’s inspiration, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Halloween, The Thing – there are movie references galore in Almost Human, making it somewhat of a horror nerds dream.

In all honesty it’s hard to believe this is a first time feature. Typically debut features suffer from either sub-par acting, poor cinematography or, in the case of horror movies, crappy special effects which, more often than not these days, are CGI-heavy too. But not Almost Human. Somehow Begos has managed to find a great cast, all of whom fit their roles to a tee – especially Graham Skipper as Seth, the paranoid abduction survivor whose, despite a failing mental shape, still manages to kick mucho alien pod-person ass when he uncovers just what his friend Mark has been up to; and Josh Ethier as the aforementioned Mark, who manages to channel both Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and Friday the 13th‘s unstoppable Jason Vorhees in his role as lumberjack turned alien killer.

But where Begos has truly succeeded is in the special effects. Eschewing a reliance on CGI, the effects of Almost Human are a glorious combination of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Hidden and The Thing, all wrapped with the type of bone-crunching, body squishing, head exploding gore that you’s expect from an 80s-themed slasher.

It’s often hard to re-capture the essence of what made 80s horror cinema (or more accurately 80s direct to video horror) so great, even on paper, so attempting to film a throwback to the low-budget, high-concept, all or nothing slashers of the decade was a huge risk for writer/director Joe Begos, but it’s one that pays off in spades – Almost Human is a worthy homage to the genre and a worthy genre film in its own right.

**** 4/5

Almost Human is released on DVD on August 4th, courtesy of Metrodome.

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