Almost Human (2013)

The Dude Designs lead me to Almost Human when he linked to an article where his poster of the film was hailed as one of the best of 2013 by Bloody Disgusting. It’s such an amazing poster too as it evokes that rose-tinted period of 80s video store awesomeness where almost every film just looked so cool thanks to an array of vibrant painted sleeves. Whereas now when I walk into work I just pass a litany of generic clones that all blend into a universal vibe of ‘meh’.

Needless to say with The Dude’s artwork supporting the films brief theatrical run in the US as well as the DVD and Blu-ray release, it comes as no surprise to find that Metrodome have dumped it for, yup… another generic sleeve. Gripes aside though, it was hard not to be excited about watching Almost Human – box art issues or not. Inspired by such 80s schlock as Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro (1983), Joe Begos decided to make his feature film debut as an appreciative nod to 80s filmmaking complete with the euphoric sight of practical SFX.

The film begins on October 13th, 1987 as we meet a distressed Seth Hampton (Skipper) driving to his friend Mark Fisher’s (Ethier) house. He tells Mark that their friend Rob has been taken and that ‘they’ were chasing after him too. A blue light exploded in front of him he says, making an ear-piercing noise. “Mark, it’s here” – whispers Seth, as any desire to go out and find their friend stalls as this unexplained entity is now shadowing Mark’s house. Mark grabs his shotgun, but as things begin to intensify with the high pitched sound reaching unbearable levels he staggers to his front door in a zombified state, opens it and disappears.

Fast-forward a couple of years and a pair of hunters are making their way through the woods when up ahead they spot the naked body of a man who they presume to be dead. As they approach the torso they notice he’s covered in a white goo, and as they inch forward for a closer inspection this supposed corpse springs to life and lets out a deafening screech. We the viewer immediately recognise the person as Mark – but for the hunters they just want to defend themselves against this crazed being and without hesitation aim a bullet at his head. It makes little difference – Mark exhibits a possessed like state and swiftly dispatches the two huntsmen before continuing his rampage as he makes his way home.

With the roots of Almost Human being cemented in those heady days of VHS 80s goodness, it’s pleasing that the influences that Joe Begos drew upon can’t be pinpointed to a specific film – and herein lies its success. The film is simply a homage to the era, indeed if I was to have stumbled upon a tape of this today I’d be forgiven for thinking its production date was 1987. The cool thing about this is that Begos hasn’t done it by scratching the print and other predictable devices. Instead by attached a pumping synth score to the movie as well as shooting it to give an uncanny 16mm vibe, the aesthetic of the movie is more subtle than sledgehammer.

With his beard and beany, Josh Ethier comes across like a demented John Grant in the role of Mark, and he’s truly intimidating. Meanwhile Graham Skipper as Seth delivers his frenzied panic with aplomb, with an easy transition to self-preserving rage as he fights to protect Mark’s former girlfriend Jen (Leigh) from her former beau. The practical effects are just a joy to behold with (as Begos admits) quite complex make-up being undertaken, but it all comes off just beautifully. Admittedly the running time for the movie is a little lean (68 minutes minus credits) but with this the film zips along at a great pace with no room for padding or redundant exposition. Almost Human is an excellent film an serves to demonstrate the level of craft that all young filmmakers should aspire to. If only we got the cool edition those pesky Americans did…

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