'The Mind's Eye': TIFF Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A retro-styled little action/horror flick whose key selling point is outrageous FX.

An evil scientist tries to rob psychokinetic mutants of their powers.

In his 2013 TIFF debut, Almost Human, Joe Begos offered a horror film so infatuated with the style of '80s straight-to-vid fare that unwitting viewers could have mistaken it for something rediscovered from that era. The shtick sticks in The Mind's Eye, which lovingly apes period details, this time with psychokinetic warriors instead of alien invaders. But where the first film was dour, this one works so hard at its ultra-grave air of menace that it eventually turns (intentionally, one hopes) comic, building to third-act violence that will leave the right kind of audience howling with delight. Midnight bookings may fare well, but mainstream auds will find the buildup too uneventful to justify the payoff. Ideally, a special VHS-only release would be most appropriate.

Graham Skipper plays Zack, a man gifted (or cursed) with the ability to move and destroy objects with his mind, especially when under duress. He and his girlfriend Rachel (Lauren Ashley Carter), who has similar abilities, were separated some time back after an "incident in Chicago" forced them to go on the run. But now both have been found by Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos), a researcher who claims he wants them to harness their abilities for the greater good, a la the X-Men's Professor Xavier.

But this mutant guru is bad news, keeping his subjects locked up in isolation and draining their spinal fluid in hopes of transferring their abilities to himself. Zack engineers a jailbreak, rescuing Rachel and hiding from Slovak's henchmen under the watchful eye of the father he hasn't seen in ages (genre mainstay Larry Fessenden).

That's all there is to the plot, which exists only as a skeleton upon which to hang psychic-power duels that get increasingly violent, and increasingly ridiculous, as the film proceeds. The picture owes a big debt to Scanners, and Begos' FX gurus expend loving care on more than one scene of a head that explodes because someone thinks too hard in its direction. (John Carpenter is another obvious touchstone here, especially in the pulsating synths of Steve Moore's soundtrack.) Serving as his own DP, Begos works in exaggerated nocturnal reds and blues, staging his manhunt at night and often under-lighting his interiors.

The first hint that the filmmaker has a sense of humor comes midway through, when a clumsy sex scene is intercut with a sequence in which Dr. Slovak receives injections in a grisly, Cronenbergian orifice while making his best agony/ecstasy face. Soon, he and Zack are engaging in standoffs of psychokinetic power, levitating in midair, looking like two painfully constipated men racing to be the first to have a bowel movement. If this ain't comedy, Begos would be wise to pretend that it is.

Production companies: Channel 83 Films, Site B Entertainment

Cast: Graham Skipper, John Speredakos, Lauren Ashley Carter, Noah Segan, Larry Fessenden, Matt Mercer, Michael Locicero

Director-Screenwriter-Director of photography: Joe Begos

Producers: Joe Begos, Josh Ethier, Graham Skipper, Zak Zeman

Production designer: Allie Melillo

Costume designer: Amanda Simonelli

Editor: Josh Ethier

Music: Steve Moore

Sales: Peter Trinh, ICM


No rating, 87 minutes