Review: The Mind’s Eye

The Mind’s Eye
Director: Joe Begos
Starring: Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos
Runtime: 87 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

 

The Mind's Eye Movie Review

 

Do you remember when body horror was dark, sexy, and too gory for children?

Joe Begos remembers.

In a DePalma-laced throwback to 70’s/80’s horror, Begos creates an alternate universe in the early 90’s in which gifted outliers with psychokinetic powers roam the country, avoiding attention and trying their best to live a normal life. Zack Connors (played by the talented Graham Skipper) is one such outlier. We meet him at the beginning of the film, walking alone through the snowy town. He seems perfectly fine with his lone wolf status, until some local cops on a power trip accost him into a panic. Restrained in a chokehold, Connors reveals his power and destroys some police property, tossing a cop onto the pavement like a rag doll. An intense, quaking stare is all it takes to remove objects – and people – from his path. Nonetheless, he’s subdued and brought in for questioning.

 

The Mind's Eye Movie Review

 

In the police station, he meets Dr. Slovak. Slovak reels him in like a twisted Dr. Xavier to a wary Wolverine, promising to help him and reunite him with Rachel (played by an expressive Lauren Ashley Carter). Despite his soothing demeanor, Slovak is a bad egg who keeps other such gifted people imprisoned in his home so he can drain their abilities and consume their power. Whereas Connors sees his gift as more of a curse, Slovak sees a nefarious potential in those abilities. The demarcation between good and evil couldn’t be any more clear in this movie, and John Speredakos inhabits the role of power-hungry madman with an over-the-top zeal that you can’t help but grin at. Conversely, Graham Skipper takes a more subdued approach to his role, providing a nice balance to his Lex-Lutherian adversary. It makes sense, as Zack Connors is not a willing hero; rather, he is manipulated into conflict and forced to act accordingly to save those close to him.

Conners eventually grows tired of his captive situation, so he locates and escapes with fellow prisoner Rachel. Dr. Slovak isn’t pleased, and so begins a thrilling chase that ends with an inevitable showdown to prove who wields the baddest brain power on the block. The movie is rife with scifi tropes, creatively deployed in such a manner that at times you forget you’re watching a second effort from an indie director. The themes bear many similarities to those of Scanners, particularly the connection between sexuality and power. It’s obvious that Begos is a Cronenberg enthusiast, and every scene, no matter how crude, is an ode to the body horror master.

For a low-budget film, this really delivers. Begos went in with a low spending limit, and it’s apparent that he spent most of that scratch on the effects department. Considering the finished product, I’m glad he made that decision. The utter carnage that ensued during the third act of the movie was some of the most memorable mayhem I’ve seen in a long time. Exploding heads, flying flesh debris, and not-so-minor axe wounds amplify the scifi celebration. While some cinephiles may balk at the close-up quivering gazes and (wire-supported) swaying axes, Begos’ vision shines through the shoestring budget. This is a legit midnight feature, where staying true to the genre is what really matters. From the mental warfare to the corporate conspiracy to the lively practical effects, The Mind’s Eye stays true.

 

 

Graham Skipper and Lauren Ashley Carter are both in fine form, playing their starring roles with restraint and vulnerable ferocity, respectively. They provide a solemn yin to John Speredakos’s campy yang, and it all just works. Indie horror darling Larry Fessenden shows up in a few endearing scenes as Connors’ father, bringing his A-game to the role, as always. I found it particularly striking that Fessenden’s performance brought more gravity to the conflict, despite dropping in halfway through the film.

The soundtrack is especially of note, as well. From the title card at the beginning reading “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD”, the use of sound in the film is paramount. Sound effects are utilized to great effect to display when psychokenetic powers are being used, rather than simply relying on visual cues like nosebleeds and distended veins. Sound effects designer Graham Reznick dishes out a handful of penetrating sounds, like the cerebral rumble that Zack emits when he deploys his kinetic abilities. It creates an unsettling effect common in body horror, particularly – you guessed it – Cronenberg’s Scanners. The film is truly a throwback, and a riotous one, at that.

When it comes down to it, you can hate on the familiar route and threadbare upholstery, or you can crank the tunes and enjoy the ride. The Mind’s Eye is a fun flick, straight up; the kind of film that the late-night double feature was meant for. The rough-around-the-edges production value only adds to the appeal and gives it an authenticity that many genre fans have been looking for in the age of the polished remake and the rebooted cash-grab. Pour some booze, watch it with your friends, and whoop and holler at the gratuitous gore.

Horror Writers Rating: 4/5 stars.

The Mind’s Eye is currently available on VOD and DVD. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvBIaIBHjA0

Review: The Snare

The Snare
Director: C.A. Cooper
Starring: Eaoifa Forward, Dan Paton, Rachel Warren
Production Company: Uncork’d Entertainment
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Watch: In theaters and On Demand Jan. 6th, 2017
Summary: Three friends head to the seafront for a drunken weekend, only to be imprisoned on the top floor of their holiday apartment by a malevolent paranormal force.

 

The Snare Movie Review

 

When Alice followed a rabbit and descended into Wonderland, she had no idea what she was in for, and emerged with a new sense of self, for better or worse. Such is the journey that our Alice embarks upon in C.A. Cooper’s psychological horror film, The Snare. The film locks us in with three mates as they devolve into madness and mayhem. Tangible characters, no-slack tension, and beautiful composition with a memorable score culminate in 90 minutes of disorienting dread.

The opening credits centering around a decaying white rabbit give you a stark picture of what you’re in for. Parallels with Alice in Wonderland abound in The Snare, including themes of maturity and the loss of innocence. It’s no coincidence that the protagonists’ name in The Snare is Alice. She’s a young woman who lives with her widower father, with whom she has a testy relationship. At the start of the movie, he enters her room while she’s changing and makes no effort to accommodate her sense of privacy or her obvious discomfort at his presence. She keeps a journal that she closely guards at all times, especially from her father. She also still keeps a childhood teddy bear, which amplifies a running subtext: Alice is a growing young woman who, in many ways, is still a child grappling with her lost innocence. Two earth-shattering events occurred early in Alice’s life that culminated in that lost innocence: the death of her mother, and another experience that can’t be explicitly mentioned without spoilers. These events form the earwig that eats away at Alice’s psyche throughout the film, causing her to question everything from her identity to her memory to the fabric of reality itself. Alice is an incredibly well-developed but reserved character; only her most relevant backstory is revealed, and only when absolutely necessary.

 

The Snare Movie Review

 

Alice and two of her friends, Carl and Liz, head up to a fully-furnished but unoccupied seaside flat for a quiet weekend. From the moment they arrive, Tim Johnson’s haunting score sets the tone and establishes the apartment building as more foreboding than its innocuous exterior suggests. Unfortunately, the beautiful soundtrack felt forced in its application at times, showing up before anything happens in many scenes. While the low, rumbling tones were effective in building dread, the filmmakers utilized the music as a way to prompt tension, rather than amplify it. It was noticeable and detracted from the well-built atmosphere, and could’ve been avoided entirely by simply waiting a few seconds before telling the audience that they should be scared.

Eaoifa Forward, Dan Paton, Rachel Warren are in excellent form as Alice, Carl, and Liz, respectively. From the very beginning, Liz is an antithesis of Alice. She’s a free-wheeling party girl who has no problem breaking the rules and cozying up with her boyfriend, Carl. Carl has a tense relationship with Alice immediately, which gets progressively worse once they arrive at the flat. When the trio realizes that they are stuck there and no one is coming for them, the tensions rise exponentially with each passing day. Food supply runs low. The water cuts off. Noises are heard. Things are seen. All the while, tempers are getting shorter and shorter while our Alice has longer and longer periods to be alone with her thoughts, which isn’t good.

 

The Snare Movie Review

 

The Snare has been compared to Evil Dead, but it’s far closer to Kubrick’s The Shining, in spirit and in craft. Cooper creates an atmosphere echoing that of The Overlook Hotel, only allowing the characters and the audience to have a vague sense of time via the weather, as viewed through the balcony. Isolation and entrapment are the motifs of the day; the film is filled with close, intimate shots of Alice that isolate her from her peers, and intricate staging that frames her in enclosed spaces. She is the fly, and the building has her in its web. For a film that doesn’t have the outright terror of a single boogeyman chasing the protagonist around, The Snare keeps a strong sense of dread throughout, and builds tension well. Jump scares are used sparingly and to great effect, as a tension-reliever rather than as a crutch. I found a special pleasure in seeing one of Alice’s horrifying nighttime visions, as it was clearly inspired by the crawling ghoul of Japanese horror, right down to the creepy death rattle.

The Snare is a thrilling reminder that good horror can be original and deep. Tumble down the rabbit hole and escape from the countless franchise remakes and reboots. Let The Snare give you a bit of Cheshire Cat wisdom, which happens to be the horror genre’s utmost maxim: “We’re all mad here.”

Horror Writer’s Rating: 4/5 stars.
The Snare is available in theaters and on demand January 6th, 2017.

 

Starry Eyes: Movie Review

starry eyes - poster

Synopsis:
Sarah has a simple dream: work hard and make it to the silver screen.  After all, who wants to work at Big Taters – a less classy version of Hooters – forever?  She will do whatever she can to make her dream come true.  What’s wrong with that?

Thoughts:
Everything.  Everything is wrong with that.  Children, listen to me: having dreams is admirable, and you should all have them.  But if making those dreams come true means willingly signing up to be a part of a Satanic success cult, then you should probably re-think those dreams.  Maybe scale it down a notch.  Is Big Taters really so bad?
(Kids, don’t work at Big Taters.  Please.  There is a middle ground between “Satanic cult” and “Big Taters,” and it is your job to find it.)

Not pictured: your dreams coming true
Not pictured: your dreams coming true

Most of her friends are terrible and are either ambivalent about her goals or actively attempting to sabotage her.  She gets an audition for a horror film called The Silver Scream and desperately wants the part, even though their demands during the audition process – pull our your hair in front of us, take off your clothes, bang this old dude, etc. – are increasingly insane.  All of these demands are spoken in the same flat, unfeeling tone, which makes them all the more chilling.  They seemed to say, “It doesn’t matter to us if you do this or not.  If you don’t want to do these things, someone else will.”

starry eyes - audition 2

Eventually, Sarah begins physically deteriorating and it becomes obvious something is going on behind the scenes.  She is left with a choice: continue down her path to stardom no matter what it takes, or pull back and try to regain whatever is left of her life.

starry eyes - sarah & producer
I liked this movie quite a bit.  It’s not one that I can say I enjoyed – there were some extremely uncomfortable scenes that can’t be classified as “enjoyable” – but it is one that I walked away from being impressed with.  I was kept off-balance for the vast majority of the movie, never quite sure what was going to happen next, or who I was even rooting for.

starry eyes - jump in pool
Alex Essoe is tremendous as Sarah.  She is able to pull off sympathetic and terrifying, sometimes in the same moment.  She’s amazing and she should be in everything.  (She was also in one of the best segments of the middling anthology, Tales of Halloween.)

starry eyes - sarah sitting outside

The rest of the cast played their parts admirably.  I was a huge fan of Fabianne Therese’s Erin, Sarah’s horrible “friend.”  She was a terrible person and she made me smile.  Pat Healy shows up as the beaten-down manager of Big Taters, creepy mustache in tow.  Those are the two that stood out – mainly because I recognized them – but everyone was great.

starry eyes - carl
This is a well-crafted, creepy, unnerving movie.  There aren’t many slow moments.  And, while there were times when I thought I knew what was going to happen next, I was never fully sure of that feeling.  If you’re looking for a dark tale about “making it in Hollywood,” with a healthy heaping of body horror, throw this on.

Rating: 4/5