Almost Human

| June 16, 2014

When Mark (Josh Ethier) mysteriously disappears in a howling white light, it takes his girlfriend Jen (Vanessa Leigh) almost two years to move on, but the harrowing night still haunts Mark’s best friend Seth (Graham Skipper), who is plagued by dreams and visions of Mark’s violent return.  Sure enough, Mark does return, seemingly possessed by some sort of demonic force that kills without conscience and infects the corpses with whatever is possessing him.

What follows is a bloody, chaotic, and overly generic horror movie, which struggles to find its own originality amid the borrowing of ideas from earlier greater works.  There are strong influences here from Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Terminator, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and any number of zombie and paranormal activity movies.  This all makes for a very amateur effort on writer/director Joe Begos’ part, who I assume is a recent graduate of some semi-prestigious film school, as Almost Human feels very much like a student project.  I believe this for a few reasons.  First, the acting is quite bad, and I imagine that the principle actors are friends of Begos, who share his passion for making movies.  Our lead, Graham Skipper, is especially bad with his melodramatic take on the character of Seth.  Whether he’s having a nervous breakdown, retreating into virtual catatonia, or snapping at someone for no reason whatsoever, it never feels quite believable.  Josh Ethier does a fair job as our stock Terminator character, and I blame most of the problems with the Jen character on the script, rather than Vanessa Leigh’s performance.

The odd thing about Jen is she doesn’t have much of a character.  Other than not being happy in her current relationship, and having her hours cut back at work, there doesn’t seem to be anything she cares about or wants.  The character serves as a question machine, asking the men folk about what’s going on so they can explain to her what’s going on in terms even a woman could understand.  I don’t need every female character to be strong and dynamic, but it would be nice if every female character was at least a character.  Also, the rules of the world get really confusing for me when it comes to Jen.  In order to infect a new host, Mark spits out an umbilical cord like phallus that attaches itself to the victim’s mouth, and he pumps what looks like eggs into the new host.  But with Jen, the hose attaches to her vagina, blatantly cementing the rape imagery in these scenes, but it confuses how the anatomy of this creature works since the mouth and vagina are not connected to the same organs.

This gets me to my biggest problem with the movie, and the biggest reason it feels like a student project.  The real reason Mark has to rape Jen rather than force-feed her is that we need an excuse to take Jen’s underwear off.  There is a lot of doing things just because we can going on in Almost Human.  Thankfully, the nudity isn’t gratuitous; just a brief glance at Jen’s nether regions, and a naked zombie that attacks Seth while covered in a milky ooze for some reason.  What really feels gratuitous and unnecessary is the amount of profanity in the film.  Now, I fucking love profanity; no problem there, but when characters are swearing just for the hell of it, because “look how grown up we are!” then I start to quickly lose interest.  After a little while, it starts to feel really juvenile, like when I was in third grade and my friends and I would say the dirtiest words we know on the playground because we weren’t supposed to.  In a movie about adults trying to deal with adult things, the replacement of commas with profanity feels not only unnecessary, but lame.  Sadly, this idea is a theme throughout Almost Human, which just falls short in most every way.  It’s directed well, and the special effects are very well executed, but sometimes you have to do another rewrite on the script when you really don’t want to, and sometimes you have to tell your friends they’re not right for the role.

Special features include two commentaries with the cast and crew, a feature length behind the scenes documentary, other shorter behind the scenes featurettes, trailers, and a photo gallery.  Available on Blu-ray and DVD from IFC on June 17.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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