Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Joe Begos
Writer: Joe Begos
Producer: Joe Begos, Anthony Ambrosino, Josh Ethier
Stars: Graham Skipper, Vanessa Leigh, Josh Ethier, Michael Locicero, Susan T. Travers, Jami Tennille, David Langill, Kristopher Avedisian
Two years after disappearing in a blue light from the sky, a man returns home where his former friends begin to suspect he has been transformed.
With its John Carpenter font for the opening credits and composer Andy Garfield channeling Alan Howarth with a moody synth score, “Almost Human” makes no secret about its inspirations from the word go. Round out the atmosphere with a late 1980’s setting and there is no mistaking the throwback vibe of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” meets “The Thing” that triple threat writer/director/producer Joe Begos wishes to evoke with his debut feature.
In a panic, Seth arrives at his friend Mark’s house with bugged-out eyes and an unbelievable tale about their friend Rob having just disappeared into a blue light from the sky. That light follows Seth to Mark’s place and takes Mark, too. After two years of psychiatrist visits and predictive night terrors for Seth, the light in the sky returns. So does Mark. Except this Mark is a shell of his former self, transformed by horrors unknown into an alien vessel intent on turning his former friends into hosts for his new masters.
For better or for worse, a little bit of both perhaps, Joe Begos keeps his first film simple. The easy does it approach roots “Almost Human” within a scope of achievability for a minimal budget and wet behind the ears talent. It is a smart way of not straining too far beyond available means to turn the movie into a multi-layered epic it does not have the resources to pull off.
Conversely, there is little more to the movie besides what is already mentioned in the above summary. Running a quick 70 minutes without credits, “Almost Human” is a straightforward slasher with an entranced pod person substituting for the masked maniac. Deeper revelations about his alien origins are nonexistent, as is any chunky meat for a skeleton plot about small town residents trying to avoid being spun into cocoons, and failing.
“Almost Human” serves up several side dishes of character development that fail to fit in, merely taking up space as non-essential fluff padding scenes of alien assaults into feature length. Mark’s ex-girlfriend Jen has had her hours reduced at work, a problem she shares with fellow waitress Tracy, making for a subplot and a secondary character with no bearing on anything. Seth has his own work troubles. His boss is on him about erratic behavior and his shelf-stocking buddy goes on about needing to get out of the house more. As short as the movie already is, it isn’t tight enough when it comes to reining in B-stories with little impact on the big picture.
“Not ready for prime time” is a gentle way of labeling the acting. The performers appear enthusiastically game for their roles, although it is evident that they need to amass more text on the back of their headshots to up their credibility as characters. Whether portraying bewildered, surprised, or fully terrified, the unilaterally employed reaction for everyone involved is always held back eyelids and parted lips.
Begos makes up for the unripe performances and prevents “Almost Human” from looking like an amateur-grade effort with excellent production value and effective sound design. The cinematography completely masks relative inexperience behind the camera and gives “Almost Human” a polished, professional look. Sound design on both fronts of score and audio effects complement the visuals and go a long way towards fulfilling the film’s intended tone of retro-styled terror.
Achieving that tone is not a complete success, however. Other than a title card saying so, there isn’t anything about the movie that particularly screams 1980’s. Regardless, “Almost Human” is still a solid attempt at crafting a worthwhile low-budget feature. Keeping the story minimal simply ended up as both an asset and a detriment. Possessed alien host slaughtering victims one by one can make for reliable horror entertainment, but it is also ultimately disposable. Now that his feet are wet in the genre, it is already time for Joe Begos to branch into bold for his next go behind the lens.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 60