Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Robert Pratten
Starring Peter Bramhill, Carole Derrien, Christopher Fairbank, Roy Borrett, Steven Burrell
Distributed by 4Digital Media
Chris Jackson (Peter Bramhill) is a bored London taxi driver obsessed with discovering the origin of a mysterious, and seemingly otherworldly, woman whom he regularly catches sightings of during his nights working in the city. Plagued by recurring and often violent nightmares, Craig’s personal life is suffering – but it’s only the beginning. Discovering a pattern of teat-like growths on his midriff, he also finds himself pursued and attacked by grotesque, lumbering creatures and eventually locked in a bizarrely abusive sexual relationship with the aforementioned mysterious woman – the “Goddess” – when she appears, naked and bloodied, in his apartment.
Meanwhile, Chris’ closest friends and acquaintances are beginning to face troubles of their own, such as best friend Tate (Steven Burrell) and dirty cop Slade (Roy Borrett), revolving around emotionally escalating paranoia and visions of a cheating wife, and the deviant sexual attraction to a mutilated murder victim, respectively.
With the visions and attacks becoming too much to handle, Chris looks for help in ex-girlfriend Tessa – a Buddhist – and eventually the knowledgeable Professor Verdain (Chris Fairbank), who reluctantly explains just what may be going on… something known as “Threshold Phenomenon”. You see, a major childhood trauma suffered by Jackson has left him a conduit for obsessions – a lightning rod absorbing and making flesh the obsessions of both himself and anyone around him. In turn, his unwitting actions are threatening to rip apart the seams of reality’s various planes, and these planes have enforcers: ruthless, cruel and horrific alien creatures who will eradicate everyone Chris cares about if he cannot face his deep-seated trauma and let go of the Goddess once and for all.
Now, if this all sounds a bit weird, that’s because it sure as shit is. Apparently based around Buddhist philosophy, Mindflesh holds its own as a total headfuck during the initial act, before evolving into something much more challenging and provocative: a sensory nightmare worthy of Cronenberg and Barker. Director Robert Pratten uses every single trick he can with the limited budget, while deftly avoiding visual cliché, to keep his audience as disoriented and discombobulated as the protagonist. Disturbing and affecting imagery abounds — such as, the bald, white-eyed, naked and bloody Goddess falling into the gently caressing arms of the lead while the chilling score whisks what you are witnessing straight into the aforementioned Barker territory; or an ensnared and gagged Jackson held by his captors using intestine-like tendrils attached to his abdominal growths, while digital hourglasses chronicle the imminent deaths of his friends.
The creature design, for such a limited budget, is excellent – especially in the latter stages – and Pratten makes the wise decision of not showing us too much of the creations. The early attack scenes are populated with jittery camerawork and “After Effects” style lens flaring, with further visual effects applied to mask much of the hulking shapes. Unlike many low-budget monster flicks, the approach actually works in Mindflesh and nothing looks too digital, fake, or off-putting. The use of sound certainly helps here, with a frantic skittering and high-pitched whine emphasizing the sensory, rather than physical, nature of the Guardians’ assaults on Chris. The previously mentioned score comes mostly in the form of a neatly balanced mixture of synths and vocals, providing a pervasively eerie and unsettling support to the visuals.
Uniformly, the cast are good. Not perfect, nor particularly brilliant, but solid and dependable. As Verdain, veteran actor Fairbank could be accused of somewhat overacting, spitting his lines with the type of venom normally reserved for stage villains (and he isn’t even the bad guy!); however, the script’s clarity with his character’s lines is absolutely spot on – possibly even vital to understanding the film and accepting the narrative. The best of the cast is undoubtedly Burrell as Tate, a man tearing himself apart emotionally with unfounded feelings of inadequacy and suspicion of his wife’s faithfulness. Of all of the characters, his is likely the one you will feel most for once the obsessions begin to malevolently manifest.
When all is said and done, Mindflesh is not an easy film. Sure, the low budget ensures that there’s plenty of roughage around the edges, and whether you can buy into the strange, metaphysical nature of the plot is entirely in your hands, but Pratten has proven himself an exceptional storyteller with this one. It’s not for everyone, but if you like your horror to be thoughtful, absorbing, challenging and more than a little grim – it ought to be right up your astral plane.
4Digital Media’s DVD release of Mindflesh comes alongside what appears to be a very good collection of special features; however, only the trailer was provided on the review disc. Due to this, a 50% score has been applied. They can only make a very good movie more worth purchasing, right?
4 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5