Headspace (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Headspace is a horror film with a Lovecraftian theme about monsters from another dimension who find a portal into our plane of existence through the brains of certain humans.

Damn those monsters from another dimension, sneaking across the borders and taking jobs away from our American monsters. Oh, sure there are those who say that these monsters only deliver the low-level scares that no self-respecting American monster like Jason or Freddy would touch, but I say that they are a drain on our social services. When is our congress finally going to seal off the dimensional portals and bring those jobs home? And where are these immigrants mentioned on the Statue of Liberty? We want the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and we will even take the tired, although they are often cranky from lack of sleep, but there is nothing in that poem about the terrifying.

The film begins with some sleight-of-hand that asks the viewer to look in one direction while it is setting up an illusion elsewhere. A young slacker meets a speed-chess master in the park, and their physical contact, a simple handshake, triggers some inexplicable changes in the youth. He suddenly experiences some exponential growth in the powers of his intellect. He is able to memorize entire books in seconds. He is able to answer questions before they have been asked. Soon he is even answering questions that cannot be answered, like why innocent children have to suffer and why the Swiss wear such tiny hats. He is even able to defeat the mysterious chess master. Unfortunately for him, his mental expansion comes at the cost of powerful headaches and terrifying dreams.

What does all this have to do with monsters from another dimension? There is only a faint connection, although it will get stronger as the film develops. The enigmatic chess master seems to be one of those humans who can act as a portal. Sorta. When he's not playing chess, he is a painter, and his paintings ... well, we are led to believe that chess guy uses his imagination to create paintings of terrifying abominations, but it turns out that he's a photorealist!

Cue up Twilight Zone theme.

(This part of the concept is borrowed directly from a Lovecraft story called Pickman's Model.)

Anyway, slacker guy gradually comes to the realization that there is a connection between his recent mental growth and some bizarre murders which are taking place around town, and that everything is connected to his own childhood, the death of his mother, and a unknown link between him and chess guy. When all of those things are added together, the answer is ... you guessed it ... monsters from another dimension.

While the director is performing sleight-of-hand with the plot, he also has some tricks up his sleeve with the casting. I thought it was clever. All the main parts in this film are taken by unknowns, but there are several cameos and bit parts filled in by well-known actors like Sean Young, William Atherton, Dee Wallace, Udo Kier, Larry Fessenden, and Olivia Hussey. The cool thing about that is that their presence in the movie leads us to think that their characters will be critical to the plot - until they are devoured or forgotten after delivering one or two lines. In essence, the director has sent a landing party down from the Enterprise in which only the anonymous red-shirted guys will return, while all the familiar faces will die horrible deaths on the lonely alien planet.

Although it received a theatrical run that consisted of one screen in New York for four days (specifically, TriBeCa Cinemas, 54 Varick Street, from February 17-20, 2006.), Headspace is a slick little movie which delivers a pretty good punch out of a minimal budget. The film looks good, has some interesting performances from the leads, and has some good scares. You have to be impressed by the fact that the director was only 25 years old at the time he made this, and had never directed a full-length film before. The kid has some talent.

This film picked up some decent notices from both mainstream and genre critics:

On the mainstream side, the N.Y. Times wrote:

"It has all the necessary gore and beasties and gratuitous nudity that this not-very-demanding genre demands .... William M. Miller's cinematography and those big-name cameos keep it interesting."

Hollywood Reporter commented:

"Van den Houten displays a strong ability for creating an air of atmospheric tension, and the film also looks uncommonly terrific, thanks to cinematographer/producer/co-screenwriter William M. Miller's expert lensing."


On the genre side, Joe Horror wrote:

"Overall, van den Houten has succeeded in making a damned fine indie horror film. Higher than usual production values really give Headspace an edge over most of its competition. The film looks good, sounds good and is good. Itís horror for the thinking person."

I was pretty much on the same page as those critics. The film has a lot of good touches and some solid pacing. What I like most about it is that it is completely fearless about challenging our conceptions about what should be in a horror film. That is very refreshing in comparison to the mass-produced dreck that Hollywood churns out as horror. Not only is Headspace a monster movie where the monsters have bit parts, and a star-filled film where the stars are completely unimportant, but it features grungy and nerdy characters in major roles. Neither chess boy nor slacker boy have any sex appeal, and many of their acquaintances consists of homeless derelicts and street waifs who are portrayed as interesting, complex people. This is not your father's horror movie, and it's not WB's either. The film even includes a damned hot sex scene, and the director filmed an even longer, hotter one which appears in the deleted scenes.

As far as I can see, the creative team made only one important mistake. They actually showed the monsters from another dimension in clear and lingering views in good lighting. Bad choice. There has never been a good visual representation of a Lovecraftian monster, because they are more frightening on the written page, and therefore in our heads, than they are on the screen. The director really had this going in the right direction for a long time. Instead of showing the chess guy's most horrifying paintings, he would only show the reactions of someone looking at them. Instead of showing the monster eating one guy's brain, he would show the scene from the P.O.V. of someone peeking around the corner, able to see only the victim's twitching feet. (In fact I do not know that the monster was eating the brain. That was just what I imagined.) That kind of suggestive technique is exactly how the film should have proceeded. After all, the story is not really about the monsters, despite my kidding above, but about the madness and fear those monsters induce in the humans who sense their presence. Unfortunately, the filmmakers felt that they eventually had to represent the monsters physically, and that was a mistake..

They look pretty much like a morph between the Creature from the Black Lagoon and James Carville (right). Scarier than the creature, but not as scary as Carville.

Despite that quibble, it's a solid little movie for genre fans, and not too gory to turn off curious mainstream viewers.

The DVD is better than solid. It is absolutely excellent - a major DVD for a minor film. It has a "making of" documentary which is 26 minutes long, a special on make-up, a featurette about bringing the creatures to life, eighteen deleted or alternate scenes comprising forty minutes of additional footage, two full-length commentary tracks, a score-only track, and several other minor features.

 

DVD INFO

  • widescreen anamorphic transfer
  • MANY features, See the last paragraph above

 

NUDITY REPORT

As an artist's model, Tatiana Vidus shows her breasts

Pollyanna McIntosh shows her bum and her large breasts in a sex scene and in some assorted quick flashes. A longer, clearer version of the sex scene is in the deleted scenes.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No scores, but Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times both reviewed the film.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

 

Based on this description, this film is a C, solid genre film.

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