Joe Begos’s debut feature Almost Human is an alien invasion splatter film made by a horror fan for horror fans. Right down to the fantastic poster art by Tom Hodge, this is a pure genre project with no desire, or ambition, to find a mainstream audience.
Begos’s potential was spotted when his first short film, Bad Moon Rising, was shown before Adam Green and Joe Lynch’s Chillerama at Frightfest 2011. Almost Human was conceived soon after and shot for the measly budget of $50,000.
The film is set in the 80s – October 15, 1987 flashes up on the first title card – so that’s technology out of the way from the get go. And the aliens are invading from minute one – no slow build here. Seth (played by Graham Skipper) has just seen his friend get sucked up into a beam of light and he’s hurtling along the road at night towards his friends’ house. Naturally, Mark (Josh Ethier) and Jen (Vanessa Leigh) don’t believe him. They argue until a loud ear-piercing noise paralyses them. Mark is drawn outside the house by an otherworldly force. Seth must watch his second friend disappear in a flash of light.
Fast forward two years and Seth is still haunted by that night and now dreams of Mark’s imminent return. All this action is brilliantly crammed into the first 10 minutes. Hunters find Mark, coated in a grey slime, naked in the woods, but he’s not quite the man he was. Their curiosity is met with death. Our anti-hero of the movie is born. Mark marauds through the town trying to piece his old life back together, but people have moved on. Almost everyone who crosses his path meets a cold, gruesome end. It’s old-school buckets of blood rather than CGI after-effects, and Ethier’s performance, for all its simplicity, is great – like a ginger-bearded Arnie from the first Terminator. While people are murdered, the rest of the town get into a froth over Seth’s paranoia and delusions – which mostly only serves to slow, rather than add to, Mark’s unfolding story.
The film is a potpourri of influences: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Fire in the Sky, Alien, anything by John Carpenter (most notably given the subject The Thing) and UK cult classic Xtro. The weight of these horror favourites on Begos’s writing and directorial mind means he never entirely rises above them, although this is no huge crime for a first feature.
For gorehounds attracted to this DVD, the social contract does not demand originality, or complex, emotional character arcs. There’s enough slimy goo, shots to the face, knives in the neck and faces caved in with rocks to keep them entertained and coming back for repeat viewings. Like the opening 10 minutes, the final 10 are a blast as Mark’s true mission and identity come to the fore.
Almost Human played well to audiences at Toronto‘s Midnight Madness, Sitges and Fantastic Fest. These are Legos’s film kin, and if that’s you too, you’ll have a ball watching this with friends over a cold one.
Watch the trailer: