Monday, February 4, 2013

Headspace (Director's Cut): Jay's Movie of the Week #5

A little belated, coming after the weekend and all, but that's the way the Editorial Calendar crumbles sometimes...

Andrew van den Houten has certainly earned horror fandom's indulgence as a producer on The Woman, Home Movie, and Jack Ketcham's The Girl Next Door and the director of Offspring. As president of Moderncine, he gets to indulge himself with this director's cut of his 2005 film, Headspace (with about an hour of extras packed on the disc) which itself must withstand big expectations from that same fan base he's earned with his later work (providing you haven't seen the prior DVD release).

The story here involves aimless young house sitter Alex Borden (Christopher Denham), whose childhood was ruined when doting parents played by Larry Fessenden and Sean Young (briefly seen but hugely memorable) have a “shotgun divorce” on his 11th birthday. Nearly 15 years later, he starts exhibiting what most would assume to be the symptoms of incipient schizophrenia and recalling childhood visions of demons. His intellect explodes, seemingly sparked by a simple game of chess in the park, and heightened senses and psychic gifts also seem part and parcel of his brainy new gifts.
Falling under the tender care of neurologists William Atherton and Dee Wallace, it is discovered that he's using far more of of his brain than the rest of us mere mortals, absorbing raw information like a sponge then crunching it with the speed of a Cray. Borden is less enthused than they are, and winds up referred to the tender ministrations of Dr. Karen Murphy (Olivia Hussey, accent muddier than ever here), who seems to be an awful and highly unethical therapist. He also follows his mysterious chess opponent, the totally unrealistic character Harry, home in a scene that for all the world feels like a barely-coded trick pick-up in the park. Harry's main qualities are painting and chess, shorthand in both film and life for an intellectual plot device with a bent towards the bohemian.

Things take a hard left at the thirty minute mark with the introduction of “men in bad rubber suits,” I mean, “monsters” (of the id, perhaps) who start knocking off those who cross Borden's path. If not of the id they must be the gremlins who cause faults in your wiring since their arrival is always signaled by flickering lights and electric sizzle. As all good manifestations of our worries must, they also attack Borden directly. When science and friends fail him, he turns to a seemingly empathetic yet ill-fated priest (Udo Kier in a gory and unusually Teutonic cameo) then Dr. Murphy's pal, a discredited random Cold War relic (Mark Margolis in an even showier cameo rocking a Boris Badenov-worthy Russian accent) for important plot-exposition. To the director's credit there is more showing than telling as Headspace picks up speed heading from under-explained origin to telegraphed finale.

The cast is what makes this a curio for most. Olivia Hussey is perhaps the most memorable. Gauntly doe-eyed, she wavers between steely and disaffected, and, yes, still sports one of the most important bust lines in screen history. This Juliet lived up to her pulchritudinous promise. Debuting here are Christopher Denham in the lead and Pollyanna McIntosh, now a muse and good luck charm to Van Den Houten, Lucky McKee and Jack Ketcham as the star of Offspring and The Woman. Her entirely gratuitous sex scenes here are the stuff from which legends are made.

As an attempt at a brain-bending horror with touches of Sci-Fi and the supernatural, Headspace has at least one jump scare that's effective even though entirely anticipated. There are several creature-kill sequences that are almost comforting in the familiarity of their structure and pace. Sometimes unclear plotting is forgivable thanks to a steady pace, and but the twists are obvious.“Of course, so-and-so is such-and-such,” and that's okay. Not a classic, but perhaps a neglected, genuine pleasure given a second shot thanks to Van Den Houten's success?

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