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Almost Human
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by Jay Seaver

"Roughly average."
3 stars

"Almost Human" is a splatter movie aimed squarely at the sharp objects and shotguns crowd, and if you're in the mood for that sort of thing, it delivers without a whole lot of other distractions. It's not really scary, but it moves quickly and has a couple of better-than-average moments, which is something that not every movie of its type can say.

Two years ago, in 1987, Seth Hampton (Graham Skipper) burst into his friend Mark Fisher's house, raving to Mark (Josh Ethier) that their friend had disappeared in a flash of blue light, and while neither Mark nor his girlfriend Jen Craven (Vanessa Leigh) gave that tale much credence, an ear-piercing whine incapacitates Seth and Jen but leads Mark to leave the house, never to be seen again. Well, at least not for another two years, when Jen has moved on better than Seth - she's engaged to well-off Clyde Dutton (Anthony Amaral III) - and a couple of hunters a hundred miles away find a naked man in the woods.

They're quickly dispatched and the returned Mark starts heading back to Patten (a small town in southern Maine where the cars all have Rhode Island plates), leaving a few more bodies in his wake. It would, perhaps, be nice if what was going on in Mark's head was a little more fleshed out; he's off-handedly murdering people and doing weird things with the bodies, but in demeanor and physicality he often seems to be the guy from the opening minutes. If writer/director Joe Begos were more interested in the whys and hows of this story, there would be some interesting material there - it's not often that aliens return an abductee (or a duplicate) to where they were taken and have the desire to execute some creepy master plan exist alongside his old self rather than displacing them, and that might have been a neat take. That's shoved off to the side, along with Jen's unexplained uneasy feeling and Seth's nosebleeds and bad dreams, so that he can get to the gore.

And, credit where credit is due, the blood and guts is pretty capable. The kills themselves start out in standard territory - knives, hunting rifles, axes, shotguns - but the guys doing the practical effects make it look pretty good, Blood sprays and the guys who got done in via cranial trauma look in bad shape. Some of the smaller things, like bodies twitching long after they should be sitting still, are more impressive than the more science-fictional special effects, although those do get into some impressively gross areas - and though I don't want to say I liked one of the nastier bits of violence, I have to admire the decisive, "we're not just doing this metaphorically" execution of it.

The cast is a bit top-heavy, but not bad. Graham Skipper sort of looks like he might be the wisecracking hero type, but plays Seth straight and reasonable most of the time, and it does help make this guy we don't know much about a more enjoyable lead. Vanessa Leigh isn't quite as good, but she screams well and handles the physical demands of the movie believably enough. Josh Ethier may be an editor by trade, but he does pretty well in front of the camera here, giving off the right sort of imposing but not completely inhuman vibe. There's a bit of a drop-off after that, but those folks are mostly there to elicit exposition or die horribly anyway.

There's a bit after the credits to theoretically set up a sequel, but you don't make sequels to movies like "Almost Human". What's the point, since it actively avoids being more than well-executed kills? If a down-and-dirty eighties throwback slasher is what you're looking for some night, this will scratch the itch and not plan to do a whole lot more.

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originally posted: 03/09/14 10:02:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2013 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 17-Jun-2014



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