Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Christopher Denham, Erik Kastel, Olivia Hussey, Larry Fesenden, Dee Wallace Stone, Udo Kier
Directed by Andrew van den Houten
I’ve been interested in this movie since the first time I had heard that both Dee Wallace Stone and Olivia Hussey would be starring in it. As the cast rounded out with names like Udo Kier and William Atherton, and the plot was revealed to be something that sounded pretty original, my interest only increased. So how does Headspace measure up to my expectations? To be honest, I’m not really sure…
The story starts off with a bang, literally. We start off at the birthday party for the older of two brothers, and at first everything seems just fine with this family. When the boy’s mother (Sean Young) gets a nosebleed, everyone seems a little too freaked out about it, and things get worse from there. The next scene we find the boys’ coming upon their mother with the remains of the family dog in her lap, though it’s unclear if she did the killing or just found it. Disturbing thought this scene is, it goes by so quick that your left wondering if you really just saw what you thought you saw. Then one night the boys’ father (Fesenden) wakes them up and tells them it’s they have to get out… now. Mom’s following them with some nasty looking knives in her hands, and the only thing dad can do to stop her is show her the business end of a double-barreled shotgun. The end result is messy and showcases a fantastic gore effect that had me hooked.
Cut to about 17 years later. The story picks up with the younger of the two brothers, Alex (newcomer Denham turning it a solid, though at times one-note, performance), who’s living in New York City and experiencing some bad headaches. He’s somehow getting paid to housesit for a couple who are traveling the world (not a bad gig if you can get it) but ends up in the hospital after he passes out in front of his best (and seemingly only) friend who’s stopped by for a visit.
Enter the doctors, who give him a thorough checkup and declare that physically he’s fine. Mentally, however, they determine that he’s using more of his frontal lobe for cognitive thought than any human ever studied. Dr. Gold (Atherton) wants to keep him on for more tests, but Dr. Bell (Stone) insists he’s fine and should be allowed to leave. Alex’s only concern are the massive headaches that seem to come from nowhere, but reveals to Dr. Bell that he seems to be learning things faster than he’s ever been able to before. Not only that, but he’s gaining knowledge without even studying anything, as is evident when Dr. Gold starts to ask him a complicated math question that he’s able to answer before he’s even finished asking it. Creepy.
Meanwhile, Alex is developing an obsession for chess, a game he’s always hated. In Central Park there’s a man named Harry (Kastel) who plays for money and always wins, so Alex makes it a point to keep working at it until he beats him. One day Alex follows him home in order to get one last game in, and finds that Harry’s also a painter who’s forte seems to be nightmarish images, some off which Alex has been seeing when he falls asleep at night.
A spiral begins when he sees some of the things Harry has put to canvas, and suddenly everyone that Alex has come into contact with start dying in increasingly nasty ways, torn apart by some unidentified beast and left in a nearly unrecognizable condition. As Alex’s intelligence grows, so does the strength of this demon.
Headspace is an accomplished first-time effort for director van den Houten. Usually people aren’t able to get this kind of cast for a feature debut, so it’s a testament to the quality of the material that he was able to get such a great ensemble. Granted, most of the bigger names featured get nothing more than glorified cameos, as Denham and Kastel are the real central characters of the movie, but just to see Olivia Hussey and Dee Wallace Stone conversing in the same scene gave me a thrill, even if the dialogue is a bit overdramatic.
Which brings me to one of the issues I had with Headspace; the dialogue. For the most part it’s passable enough, but there are far too many vague conversations and dramatic pauses; after a while you almost want the filmmakers to sledgehammer some plot home for you. Denham’s turn as Alex is the worst offender of this, never saying what one would think it’d be logical for him to say until it’s too late and the damage is done. His enhanced ability to retain information apparently does nothing for his ability to communicate, and it can get frustrating.
Eventually the sledgehammer does fall however, in the somewhat traditional method of introducing a character with all the answers just long enough for him to pass that information on, then they’re never heard from again. In this setting it was forgivable, since the concept behind Headspace is more or less unique, so it’s not like any background information about what’s happening to Alex would be that readily available. It’s a shame that such an interesting concept could be thought up but a more unconventional way of spelling it out to the main character, and in turn the audience, was not.
Since we’re on the subject of issues with the film, let’s discuss the monster, shall we? For a good portion of the movie the only thing you see are the hands of the beast, which unfortunately won’t do much to assure you that it’s a cool looking creature as they’re quite obviously big and rubbery. When the beast is finally revealed, though, its design harkens back to man-in-suit creations, something you don’t see nearly enough of in film today, and actually does look pretty damn cool… except for its nose. I won’t go much further into detail about it, as it shouldn’t be too spoiled for you, but suffice it to say it’s nose pretty much ruins any intimidation factor the creature had for me up to this point. It’s a shame, really, because the rest of the makeup effects in Headspace are top-notch, so it’s clear the team they had for the movie knew what they were doing. Why they decided on such a bizarre facial feature for their monster is perplexing, to say the least.
Thankfully, though, Headspace is not about a monster; it’s about the slow descent into some form of madness that Alex is on, and that concept it tackles well. It seemed to me at times that the filmmakers weren’t even too sure where the story was going, however, the ending being a shinning example of that. The film just kind of ends with no form of resolution or explanation. Normally that sort of thing doesn’t bother me too much, but when you’re presenting a varied amount of ideas and concepts to your audience, it’s a good idea to try and bring them all together in the end so your viewers don’t walk away confused. Of course it does leave itself open to interpretation, which may be what they were going for in the first place.
Another thing I will give the film as a whole; it looks great. Cinematographer William M. Miller does a masterful job with the atmosphere of the film, using lighting and skillful camera work to bring a palpable sense of dread to the proceedings. You never feel completely safe for the entire running time, there’s always a threat of something bad lurking around the next corner, giving the movie an element of unpredictability that helped keep me interested from beginning to end. That coupled with the numerous questions that are asked but never completely answered makes Headspace the kind of film that will, if nothing else, keep people talking about it after it’s over.
Overall this is the kind of movie I wish could come from indie filmmakers more often. It challenged me to draw my own conclusions, something that rarely if ever happens these days which is why, even after writing all this, I’m still not sure if it met with my expectations or not. It left an impression on me, and for that I have to respect it.
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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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