The scrappy, super-violent, and consistently amusing new sci-fi horror film called Almost Human is certainly a short, sharp shock of indie-style scares and splatter, but here's what impresses me the most about the flick: it virtually reeks of love for the finest in 1980s horror cinema, yet it was written and directed by a 25-year-old guy! That's not fair! Homages to movies like Xtro (1983) should only be made by people who were actually alive in the 1980s! Who does this Joe Begos think he is?
Well, having seen the man's adorably earnest and wonderfully icky Almost Human, I think that writer/director Joe Begos is the type of guy who may have missed the 1980s, but sure did his due diligence where low-budget science fiction horror is concerned. I like to believe that if I become a filmmaker my first flick would look a lot like Almost Human: very short, dryly funny, frequently gross, occasionally scary, and practically bursting with love for other movies.
Sort of a mash-up of Fire in the Sky (1993), the aforementioned Xtro, and a particularly brutal slasher film, Almost Human tells the story of a young man who is kidnapped by aliens for two years and then returns to Earth as, well, as almost human. Poor Mark (Josh Ethier) used to be a sweet guy, but since spending a lot of time "elsewhere," he's become sort of a humanoid alien receptacle who causes all sorts of bloody mayhem from the moment he's found naked in the forest.
Meanwhile, Mark's old friends Seth (Graham Skipper) and Jen (Vanessa Leigh) are slowly piecing together the clues of his reappearance, but their investigations are interrupted by frequent murders, numerous attempts on their life, and eventually a trip into Alien Mark's cellar - and there's some pretty nasty stuff down there. It's all very familiar, but in the case of Almost Human, it's (almost) all very amusing as well. Mr. Begos and his friends have done something more impressive than a satire or a basic homage; they've actually distilled their love for sci-fi-horror insanity into a movie that feels a lot like other flicks -- but also earns a few originality points of its own.
The score and the gore, for example, are important components that really shine in Almost Human. The three leads are plainly inexperienced but also pretty solid young actors. (Some of the supporting cast? Not so much. But most of those people die so quickly that it doesn't really matter.) And if Almost Human struggles with one or two slow spots in the early going, Begos and Co. more than make up for it with a third act that's little more than scrapes, escapes, chases, and all sorts of slimy carnage.
In other words, Almost Human suffers from a few of the "first-timer" problems, but the important stuff (a cool story, a consistent tone, some interesting characters, and a lot of blood-drenched madness) is what matters, and this is a low-budget indie genre film that delivers in those departments. Best of all, the movie feels like a "throwback" that's not a rip-off, and a mild satire that clearly loves the stuff it's poking fun at.
In case the earlier Xtro reference didn't clue you in, I am a longtime junkie for any film that can be described as "sci-fi-horror," and I don't care if it's about hungry aliens out in space or one amazingly murderous alien here on Earth -- and I say Almost Human is what happens when young geeks become good filmmakers. If the very brief and admirably simple Almost Human exists as little more than a "calling card" for Joe Begos and his horror-loving team, then I say it's a successful one indeed, and we should expect to hear more from these guys soon.
Editors note - check out Joe Begos' short film Bad Moon Rising