It’s not every day that you come across an independent film that leaves your jaw hanging open, welcoming flies by the dozens. That said, it’s not every day we get to see a new Joe Begos film land in your lap.
For those that don’t know, Begos is one of the true emerging talents in the field, and he’s unique in the sense that he really listens to fans and understands what it is that fans want to see. Most of us genre addicts don’t favor heavy CGI and rapid fire sequences designed to appeal to those with an attention span as thin as a piece of floss.
Begos knows those things. That’s why he gives us stories loaded with character exploration and examination. He ensures we know the characters featured in his films. He ensures we care about them and the inevitable plight they face.
And then he takes his time to build to a conflict that shocks… and then he pushes his protagonists into a realm where that conflict is unavoidable and danger is imminent. The heroes must face their troubles, no matter how daunting, and they must overcome said troubles in order to ensure that right prevails over wrong.
And he’s damn good at lining up all of those chess pieces in order to knock them down in proper order. In short, Begos is an extremely talented gent who has proven that, no matter how many production challenges arise, he’s willing to jump into the trenches and work tirelessly until he’s resolved those production hurdles. It’s admirable, to say the very least.
Our own Daniel Hadley recently pieced together an official review of the film, so I’m not going to pull a repeat performance here, instead I’m going to highlight the aspects of the film that truly shine.
Inside the film’s first act we get to know Zack Connors, a potential walking weapon, as he possesses extreme psychokinetic powers. He can toss a man a hundred yards with no physical exertion; it’s all in his mind and the near limitless abilities that thrive in his noggin.
But despite Zack’s powers, we know immediately that he’s the heroic type. Looking for his missing love, Zack is a sympathetic yet powerful individual, and the manner in which local law enforcement treat the man calls for serious viewer sympathy. The man may have some special abilities, but he’s no monster, and he doesn’t deserve to be treated as a monster.
The very same could be said for Rachel Meadows, the aforementioned love interest. She’s been kidnapped by the shady Dr. Michael Slovak, who attempts to illustrate himself as a man with a desire to hone and refine the powers possessed by Zack and Rachel. His motives, however, are not what they seem.
That said, Begos excavates the Doc’s mindset brilliantly, gradually illuminating the doctor for what he is: a power hungry man who has lost his grasp on reality and possesses sinister designs.
We meet a handful of supporting characters – most of which qualify as Slovak’s henchmen – and while they don’t receive the attention that the primary ensemble do, we get an early and clear understanding that these fellows aren’t here to save the day, or highlight immoral faults in the doctor. They’re there as pawns and very little more.
You know a filmmaker is special when they can take a neophyte performer and summon performances that rival seasoned veterans of the screen.
Graham Skipper, who portrays our lead protagonist, Zack, has fewer than 30 credits to his name, with a lot of those credits being short films. Yet he handles himself as a man who’s spent decades in front of the camera. He’s convincing, his responses to tense situations feel extremely organic and as a viewer, I found it nearly impossible to do anything but root for the man.
The very same can be said for Lauren Ashley Carter, or Rachel, who has fewer than 20 credits to her name. Yet here she is, delivering a jarring performance that commands sympathy.
Begos rounds out the cast with a few busier thespians – Matt Mercer, Noah Segan, Larry Fessenden and John Speredakos. And they treat Begos’ material with absolute respect, further balancing the impressive work of the complete cast.
However Begos handles himself behind the camera, it’s working, for both green and experienced performers alike. The man is a leader.
In the film we see that Slovak has been siphoning fluids from Rachel, hoping that whatever courses through her veins can be transferred to others, namely himself. Is the doc truly power hungry? You bet your lily white ass he is. And sadly, he’s willing to sacrifice just about anything and everything to obtain the gift that Rachel and Zack possess.
Ultimately, his experiments do work, but some tragic side effects also take a major toll on the doctor, who gradually loses his hold on health and reality. The doctor’s descent is a harsh one, but it’s handled wonderfully by Begos who steadily forces the inner ugliness of the doc to the surface.
In regards to conflicts, Begos develops a taut one. It’s well mapped out and it works perfectly in the grand scheme of the story. While Begos has limited experience in both filmmaking and writing, he’s proven he has a natural knack for both.
These days we find ourselves wrapped up in typically hokey computer generated special effects. The vast majority of the CGI we see is comical, and yet blockbuster films (think World War Z) still lean on this tactic. To an extent, I understand. CGI is the easier path to travel. Practical effects can cause numerous hiccups and delays in a production, and when it comes to practical work, sometimes filmmakers only have one single chance to get the shot they’re seeking.
So, naturally, filmmakers and studios call for shortcuts. Begos, who is working his own magic without the support of an enormous studio still has the ability to call the shots. And the shots he’s calling are glorious.
You want to see exploding heads that look terrifyingly real, Begos has your number. And while some studios fear their films will look dated with practical effects (here’s looking at Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing), the truth is fans still crave effects that look genuinely tangible. We want the idea that we could reach out and touch those grotesqueries. For some reason studios have decided we’re above realistic imagery, but that’s not the case, at all, and Begos gets that.
The Mind’s Eye is loaded with absolutely stunning special effects. We’re talking legitimate gross-out work. And it all looks gorgeous. And, to be fair to studios, films like this do indeed feel reminiscent of pictures produced in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Practical effects still leave us in awe, and we’re fortunate to see young filmmakers like Begos respect the audience enough to go through the troubles of making those practical effects successful.
If you’re on the hunt for a gory movie, The Mind’s Eye is the movie you’re hunting.
The Final Verdict
Joe Begos impressed with Almost Human, but his skills have reached new heights as evidenced by The Mind’s Eye. The story is great, the setting is gorgeous (Begos has a way of creating stunning contrast – blood splattered all over perfectly white snow), the acting is top-notch and we are introduced to characters we both love and hate, which is the perfect balance for a genre film.
I’ve already issued plenty of praise in regards to special effects, so I’ll refrain from continuing to gush, but I can say this with total and complete confidence: The mixture of tactics utilized by Begos has made for one of, if not the very best independent film to hit the market in 2016.
Will The Mind’s Eye be on our Best of 2016 list? Absolutely!