Studio: RLJ Entertainment
Director: Joe Begos
Writer: Joe Begos
Producer: Joe Begos, Josh Ethier, Graham Skipper, Zak Zeman
Stars: Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, Noah Segan, Michael A. LoCicero, Jeremy Gardner, Matt Mercer, Patrick M. Walsh, Josh Ethier, Brian Morvant, Susan T. Travers
A man struggling to control his psychokinetic powers spurs a revolt against a mad doctor attempting to exploit his patients’ mental abilities.
Before its screening at Beyond Fest 2015 in Hollywood, festival programmer Christian Parkes raised a bottle of Schlitz and introduced “The Mind’s Eye” as a movie best experienced with alcohol in hand. Producer Josh Ethier agreed, twice offering the audience an additional instruction of, “don’t think about it, just watch it.”
That kind of advice usually forewarns of supreme cinematic silliness, i.e. brace for a movie where beers are more useful than brains to find enjoyment in irreverent, outrageous, or otherwise mindless mayhem. What Parkes and Ethier more accurately intend to indicate in this case is that “The Mind’s Eye” is straight-up psychic horror aiming intentionally for wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor, and then obliterating-the-entire-room action entertainment. As Ethier also stated, “there’s no subtext here.” There is no subtlety either, and writer/director Joe Begos wouldn’t want it any other way.
Zack Connors is an on-the-run drifter cut from the same cloth as Dr. David Banner. You wouldn’t like Zack when he is angry. That’s when his head tilts down and his eyes tilt up as an outstretched palm sends psychokinetic brainwaves of incredible force into anyone foolish enough to provoke him.
When he learns that lost love Rachel is in the hands of a shady doctor supposedly working to help PKs control their abilities, Zack commits himself for treatment at the Slovak Institute of Psychokinetics. Dr. Slovak turns out to have more in common with Magneto than with Professor X. After months of being doped with an ability-inhibiting serum, and continually denied a reunion with Rachel, Zack begins a rebellion revealing the true intent behind the mad doctor’s research. That spark erupts into a full-blown battle royal so chock full of bursting bodies and exploding heads that Carrie White and Darryl Revok wouldn’t even survive the first round.
Desire plotting more nuanced than that and you’d best look elsewhere. Background motivations are referred to with Snake Plissken-like cryptics (an “incident in Chicago” is the extent of illumination regarding Zack and Rachel’s past) as the story primarily functions as an incidental setup to make “The Mind’s Eye” a practical makeup effects fan’s dream come true (CGI is used only for wire removal in levitation scenes). It’s a wet dream too, in the literal sense that every pulsating body part detonates with enough chunky gore to fit back into ten people.
The film is as much of a feast for synth fans’ ears as it is for gorehounds’ eyes. Genre cinema has ridden retro waves where kitchen sink winks to favorite influences are thrown in whether they fit the homage or not. Carpenter/Howarth synthesizer scores are one such element that can mar a mood if misused. With its 1990-1991 setting and obvious influences of Cronenberg and De Palma, the soundscape of “The Mind’s Eye” is a perfect playground for composer Steve Moore’s unsettlingly atmospheric keyboards. There’s no worry of misguided indulgence here since “The Mind’s Eye” champions moviemaking exuberance anyway.
Graham Reznick’s sound design is equally aces. Reznick’s tones complement Moore’s pulses by heightening PK displays with pitched tension distracting from ridiculousness. Without such terrific attention to audio’s importance, every actor would seem to be in a state of perpetual constipation as they strain to sell psychokinesis through clenched teeth and shaking faces. When it comes to its plentiful “Scanners” moments, the movie is exceptionally good about swelling the soundtrack without making the impending pop predictable, even when you know it is inevitable.
Packed with crashing glass, gunshots, and violently volcanic decapitations, “The Mind’s Eye” is unapologetically loud. Editing is sharp and the fights look great, though every confrontation has an identical outcome of combatants collapsing only to regain consciousness and look for another fight.
“The Mind’s Eye” is not played for laughs, but if you don’t know ahead of time that the filmmakers are being deliberately on the nose, the movie rightfully reads as ridiculous. An obvious example is a sex scene between Zack and Rachel cut concurrently with Dr. Slovak receiving painful serum injections. Director Joe Begos knows exactly what he is doing by juxtaposing everyone’s respective O faces, but there is no getting around how comically the whole presentation comes across.
Most of the actors keep their relative cool in spite of insane theatrics and soap opera dramatics, although John Speredakos in particular goes far enough over the top to fall off the other side. Speredakos plays Dr. Slovak as the type of villain who licks lips with wide eyes when a captive good guy spits in his face. Speredakos eventually throws all restraint out the window, sneering with each spoken name and stretching lips back as far as he can while speaking in a Cobra Commander rasp. It hits a boiling point where one can’t help but imagine a more toned performance suiting the role better.
Keying off that notion, “The Mind’s Eye” undersells its full potential by being too content with wildness over resonant depth. A little more seriousness with a little less camp and “The Mind’s Eye” would be a greater force to reckon with. The film is always fierce, but with one character wearing an eyepatch, a clichéd confessional moment requiring “it was an accident” consoling, and excessive close-ups of dropped guns skittering on the floor so the audience always knows where they are, those aforementioned beers are indispensible for focusing on the fun instead of on the foibles.
If you enjoyed this collective’s previous film “Almost Human” (review here), “The Mind’s Eye” is even better as a logical follow-up for a fantastic double feature. Begos, Ethier, Graham Skipper, et al are clearly a dedicated group having a good time making movies like the ones they loved growing up. The difference is they have more professionally polished execution than cheap indie efforts chasing childhood dreams.
Entertainment value of “The Mind’s Eye” can be up for debate, but the filmmakers’ commitment cannot. This is a crew that shot for 36 days, a six and a half week period that most would use to film three productions, in weather that was 20 degrees below zero when it could just as easily have been sunny California. If that isn’t convincing evidence of sincere desire to deliver maximum boom for the buck, what is?
Review Score: 70