Written and Directed by: Joe Begos
Starring: Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, and John Speredakos
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Mind over matter.
After just two films, I still think it’s safe to say Joe Begos is my kind of filmmaker. Even though he wears his influences on his sleeve, he doesn’t allow his fondness and nostalgia for them to overwhelm his own films; instead, it turns out the best way to pay tribute to the masters is through impeccable craftsmanship. In short: you just make great fucking movies. It also helps that he clearly knows that you don’t show an axe unless you intend to smash someone’s face with it.
Smashing faces is very much on the agenda for The Mind’s Eye, Bego’s follow-up to Almost Human that sees him trading in Carpenter for Cronenberg. If Almost Human was his ode to The Thing, then this is his tribute to Scanners and all the brain-melting, head-popping carnage that entails. While it’s an exercise in practical effects that mostly amounts to “hey, remember when the guy’s head exploded in Scanners?” I cannot in good faith dismiss it for that.
Its sparse plot involves the revelation that individuals with psychokinetic abilities have walked among us for decades. An attempt by the government to coral them for various nefarious purposes has been in effect since the early 80s, a full decade before the events of the film. Towards the end of 1990, Zach Connors (Graham Skipper) lands in the custody of one such program when supervisor Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos) coerces him into signing up. It turns out he’s already placed Zach’s girlfriend Rachel (Lauren Ashley Carter) in his custody, and the two lovers spend months in Slovak’s experimental program. Eventually, Zack realizes that Slovak is merely exploiting the entire group of psychokinetics and decides to escape with Rachel.
Once The Mind’s Eye transitions into a man-on-the-run thriller (with psychokinetics!), it’s all about a buzzing synth score and smashing skulls, both of which I naturally approve. Clocking in at 87 minutes, the film efficiently moves from one encounter to the next, stopping only to take the requisite amount of time to fill in Zach’s tragic backstory involving his dead mother and estranged father (Larry Fessenden). It’s all serviceable enough, even if some of the more dramatic beats feel a little overcooked and fall flat. Plus, they’re mostly confined to one scene, and even it has bursts of inspiration since Begos cuts between Zack and Rachel’s consummation and the increasingly deranged Slovak coming fully unhinged. The Mind’s Eye does not lack for interesting moments even during its weakest points.
But Begos is so attuned on delivering exactly what you’d expect from a Scanners riff, said weak points are few and far between. They’re also buoyed by all the stuff that really matters—namely, the intense showdowns that often end with chunks of viscera splattered all over the set. Carnage abounds since just about everyone involved has psychokinetic abilities, including the two agents Slovak dispatches to track down the escapees. Suffice it to say, objects—both blunt and sharp—are flung about, resulting in some absolutely brutal exchanges before people start losing their heads.
You can feel the viciousness in every frame of The Mind’s Eye, thanks in part to Begos’s intimate framing. So many of the confrontations unfold in close quarters, and the camera doesn’t flinch—it wants you to see and feel every thud, punch, gunshot, and, eventually, head splatter. Likewise, the film’s incredible sound design intensifies the proceedings: The Mind’s Eye opens with a title card that insists “this film should be played loud,” and it soon becomes obvious why: this is a film that thrives on skull-shattering noise, particularly the special psychokinetic buzzing that receives its own special credit. By the time it reaches its climax, The Mind’s Eye becomes a crescendo of screwy, haywire noise that engulfs the audience in the swirling chaos unfolding on-screen.
It’s here, too, that the film’s splatter sensibilities go into overdrive. With both Scanners and The Fury acting as reference points, it should come as no surprise that plenty of heads practically disintegrate right before our eyes; however, Begos devises other clever instances of carnage (let’s just say this is where the axe comes into play), resulting in a glorious display of practical effects work. A film like The Mind’s Eye has one overarching mandate—paint the walls with as much blood and guts possible—and it fucking delivers. Far be it from me to look down on any movie with such admirable goals, especially when it’s done in such a cool, efficient manner.
I don’t want to make it sound like The Mind’s Eye is just some splatter movie reel. Sure, you come for the wrecked faces and skulls, but you stay because it’s couched in such a cool moody, evocative aesthetic (read: fluorescent lighting for days, an admitted personal weakness of mine). Speredakos’s bugnuts performance as Slovak becomes more deranged is also a highlight—he goes full, over-the-top mad scientist, threatening to telekinetically ball up all of the scenery and swallow it whole. Should also I mention that Noah Segan plays one of his lackeys, wears an eye-patch, and basically does a Snake Plissken thing?
The Mind’s Eye is also further evidence that Lauren Ashley Carter continues to be one the genre’s most compelling presences, even if she’s sometimes reduced to a damsel-in-distress here. She does get her moments, but if the film has one significant stumble, it’s in her unfortunate sidelining for the latter third. Zach’s solo revenge spree would arguably be even more impactful if she were around for it (the more psychokinetic possibilities, the merrier is what I always say).
This quibble aside, however, The Mind’s Eye is everything I want from a movie that basically acts as a long-lost Scanners sequel. Speaking as someone who enjoys the actual Scanners sequels, this is high praise; what’s more, Begos takes it more seriously than those films ever did. You can go ahead and put me down for whatever he dreams up next.
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