For the first (of many) midnight screenings during Fantastic Fest this year here in Austin, I chose Almost Human from director Joe Begos. I’d read about the lo-fi vibe of the thing, the influences from 80’s Carpenter and I figured it would be a good choice to get things going. By and large, it turned out to be a good choice in that the film near-perfectly captures the 80’s vibe, was well done (and very well shot) on a small budget and sported some really excellent effects work of both the aftermath and action varieties. All these things are definite pluses for the film. On the other side of the coin, some of the dialogue is quite clunky and often feels unmotivated which leads to performances that don’t feel like they get out of 2nd gear.
That said, I’ll take a performance in second gear from someone who can actually act and by and large everyone does fine in that regard. In particular, Seth (played by Graham Skipper) was an interesting character that I wanted to see more of. He is not your standard, wallflower type lead where it all just sort of tumbles past him as he goes. He is engaged and not one-dimensional at all and this greatly adds to the film’s solid footing on the whole.
The story surrounds a mysterious disappearance and then reappearance of Seth’s friend Mark (and, I swear, another person but I’ll be damned if I remember if it gets addressed again) and the aftermath of that creepy abduction (seemingly) by aliens. Mark (played by a mountain of a man, Josh Ethier) comes back onto the scene two years after the abduction, naked and covered in alien-goop, sporting a seriously freaky yell/shriek-thing that debilitate the victim and a jones to dispatch people in a variety of ways in his quest to track down his girlfriend. His calmness and total lack of rage are very off in relation to his violent, bloody actions and it often feels like some level of explanation about his adeptness with knives and other weapons would’ve helped. Outside of being a physical presence, the man seems to have great knowledge in the ways of killing folks with abandon and it’s hard to see (in the context of the film) where that skill came from, exactly.
Regardless, the second half of the film focuses primarily on what the hell Mark might be doing and what his plan may be. This feels smart, but (oddly) at the same time underdeveloped as the idea itself is neat but the motivation, process or goal aren’t clear and are (to me) to murky to ascertain. So often it is refreshing to have a less-than-clear outcome in a film and rely on the viewer to piece it together on their own. In the case of Almost Human, one wishes there might’ve been more spelled out on-screen and less (amazingly enough) left to the imagination.