A polished, micro-budgeted horror yarn from writer-director-producer-cinematographer Joe Begos (his feature-length debut), "Almost Human" bleeds and spurts with obvious throwbacks to pics of genre's past. A mishmash combining alien abduction (1993's "Fire in the Sky"), parasitic pods (any version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," take your pick), icky otherworldly impregnation (1983's "Xtro
") and a ruthless small-town killing spree (1978's "Halloween
"), the movie substitutes its lack of subjective originality with a heap of creative behind-the-scenes ingenuity. It is nice to be exposed to a talented new filmmaker's work when said artist succeeds with such limited resources. Begos goes above and beyond, the practical special and make-up effects strengthening his production values and helping to smooth over the more amateurish performances in the cast.
On October 13, 1987, the sleepy town of Patten, Maine was host to a county-wide power outage and the suspicious disappearances of two men. Their friend, Seth Hampton (Graham Skipper), was questioned about a possible crime, but let go for lack of evidence. He knows very well what he saw, and what he saw was Mark Fisher (Josh Ethier) getting sucked into the sky in a beam of light. Two years later, unexplained lights are reappearing from above, this phenomena coinciding with Seth's recurring dreams that Mark is about to return. Mark's ex-girlfriend, Jen (Vanessa Leigh), has no memories of his abduction, but figures there might be something to Seth's claims of imminent danger when dead bodies are found at a nearby gas station. Mark has, indeed, returned, but he's not the same person he once was.
Even before Joe Begos tosses in a reference to the Stephen King-created fictional Maine town of Derry, "Almost Human" has revealed plenty of inspirations, some sneaky and others loud and proud. Filmed in Rhode Island, the picture feels authentic in its east-coast geography and the citizens who reside there. What the actors lack in total ease and naturalism they come close to making up for in conviction. This isn't a deep character piece, anyway, its keen technical skill reigning supreme. Layer upon layer, the music score by Andy Garfield (2010's "Hatchet II
") builds in edgy, off-kilter confidence while the stalk-and-kill scenes (most notably one in which a blood-spattered Mark shows up at his old house, now lived in by strangers) are genuinely tense and brutal.
The plot grows a bit too obvious in its third act once the "Body Snatchers" elements come into play, but "Almost Human" keeps plowing ahead, avoiding dismantlement even during an inevitable ending that is only okay. In borrowing spare elements from a bunch of different subgenres, Begos gives a swirly verve to the derivative. His aesthetic, at once intrepidly homegrown and well cultivated, oozes with the enthusiasm of someone who has made exactly the film he set out to. Is "Almost Human" an alien invasion story? A gory slasher flick? A tribute to B-movies as a collective? It is all of the above, and really rather groovy.