Review: Heads explode a-plenty in charmingly absurd midnight movie ‘Mind’s Eye’

One of the reasons I try to see the Toronto midnight movies at the actual midnight screenings is because those audiences are positively bloodthirsty. They are there because they want red meat. They want to scream and groan and cheer, but not every night is programmed that way. Colin Geddes, the madman behind Midnight Madness, designs that schedule so there are some ups and downs and a mix of different energies. One of the movies that played most aggressively with the audience, satisfying exactly what they wanted, was “The Mind's Eye,” the newest film from the same team who brought “Almost Human” to the festival a few years ago.

Joe Begos and Josh Ethier and Zak Zeman are the ultimate expression of those kids who remade “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” or that dude who remade “Rambo” in one room, pastiche artists who make greatest hits versions of the films they love. Their production company is called Channel 83, and their logo is blown-out perfection. I would watch Channel 83 obsessively if it existed. Everything would be a little bit familiar, but absolutely run through their particular filter, and the one thing you could count on would be that the films would be made with absolute love and affection.

Written, directed, and photographed by Begos, “The Mind's Eye” tells the story of Zack Connors (Graham Skipper) and Rachel Meadows (Lauren Ashley Carter), a young couple who is tracked down and held prisoner by Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos). Both Zack and Rachel are powerful psychokinetics, and Slovak wants to find a way to transfer the enormous power they possess to people born “normal.” Skipper, whose eyes are about 150% wider than most people's, is perfect as a twitchy drifter with powers he can't control, and Carter's well-cast as his opposite number. Speredakos seems to have been directed to chew scenery and never look back, and as the film progresses, he proves repeatedly that there is no top he can't go over.

With other familiar faces like Larry Fessenden and Noah Segan showing up in supporting roles, this feels bigger than “Almost Human,” but not by giant leaps and bounds. This is still a fairly modest affair, self-contained and intimate, with an emphasis on gnarly make-up effects. You could certainly argue that this has been heavily influenced by David Cronenberg's “Scanners,” but it's more like the way someone would remember the film 20 years after seeing it than like the actual “Scanners.”

One of the things that makes it hard to stage scenes in movies like this is how passive the powers are, visually speaking. When you have two psychics fighting, you're dealing with two peep staring intensely at each other. The film uses sound design to help sell the idea of the powers, and then when things do reach a breaking point, it is super-violent and bloody, in a way that feels like young, giddy gorehounds who get to do it themselves finally.

Here's what I like about this filmmaking team: it's easy to make these kinds of films and to do it with an ironic detachment. There's nothing stand-offish or smarter-than-the-material about the way this is approached, though. “The Mind's Eye” is straight-up sincere, earnestly played and honestly intentioned. This is exploitation fare without any wink attached. These guys aren't trying to elevate the genre… they just want to make a psychic wars horror film and blow up some heads.

“The Mind's Eye” isn't trying to redefine a genre or stand outside it; this is mean-and-potatoes genre filmmaking, and the more straightforward, the more fun it is. Begos and his collaborators bring a great giddy energy to their work, and it easily rubs off on the audience as they watch.

“The Mind's Eye” is still seeking distribution, and will be playing this week's Fantastic Fest in Austin.