Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Headspace (2005)

When he was a child, Alex Borden (as a grown-up played by Christopher Denham) and his brother witnessed how their mother (Sean Young) started to act extremely strange in the night of Alex' tenth birthday. Going all yellow-eyed and trying to kill one's family is at least not the sort of birthday present I used to get from my mother when I was small.

Fortunately (more or less), the boys' dad (godfather of contemporary indie horror Larry Fessenden) has a gun and is willing to blow his wife's head of with it. Afterwards, he gives his children up for adoption and is never seen again.

As a twenty-something, Alex doesn't remember much about that time of his life anymore, it's not even clear if he remembers ever having had a brother. He works as a house sitter in New York, living the original slacker dream until one day, things for him start to change.

At first, it is only headaches, but soon enough he develops a mean case of speed-reading memory tricks and flashes of his past begin plaguing him, followed by nightmares and visions of demon-like creatures who seem to be after him. Alex seeks help, but neither the chess player in the park (Erick Kastel) he feels drawn to nor his only friend, nor a psychiatrist (Dee Wallace-Stone), nor the unorthodox psychologist Dr. Murphy (Olivia Hussey) are able to help him.

Things get even worse when a series of murders begins, all victims people Alex knew, all ripped apart by someone or something the increasingly erratic man is convinced are the demons from his visions.

Alex gets so desperate he even tries to seek help in a church priested by Udo Kier, but only manages to see the priest die.

Finally, Dr. Murphy sends Alex to an even more unorthodox psychologist (Mark Margolis) who exposits the whole business for him.

After the thrashing I gave his later Offspring, Andrew van den Houten's directorial efforts here came as quite a surprise to me. Calling his direction excellent would take it too far, but in the first hour of Headspace van den Houten shows a steady and knowledgeable hand, very cleverly avoiding to show more than his budget allows and trusting his actors to do their thing without him needing to be flashy.

On paper, the film's cast looks a bit too much like stunt-casting, yet most of the "name" actors are taking their parts here as seriously as any good professional should, acting instead of just popping their more or less famous faces into the camera. The less experienced lead Christopher Denham for his part shows exactly the brittleness needed for his role and carries the film as far as the script lets him.

And there lies the problem - what works nicely as a relatively subtle, slightly head-trippy horror film for the first hour, turns instantly ridiculous with the appearance of Mark Margolis, his crappy Russian accent, his ill-advised scenery-chewing and his just plain stupid bit of exposition. From that scene on, Headspace is on a downward spiral into bad horror movie cliché with a big piece of bad melodrama.

It is quite impressive how fast the film breaks down. One minute, we're seeing Udo Kier being ripped apart after a nice and intense performance, and the next we're watching badly staged footage of secret Russian experiments while Margolis tortures our ears, leading up to a not at all surprising plot twist, and way too much bad rubber monster costume in full view. It is as if van den Houten didn't realize how damaging shoddy monster costumes can be if you're trying to make a serious horror film, especially when there is no good reason to show the monsters at all.

I'd love to tell you that Headspace is still worth watching for the more than solid first hour, the final third of a film however isn't just worse than the earlier two thirds, it is so bad that it retroactively ruins what came before in a neat if unfortunate magic trick, much like a magician conjuring up flames only to burn down his own house.

Of course, one can always just watch until Margolis appears and make up one's own ending.



Todd said...

If every priest had the appearance and demeanor of Udo Kier, I think the Catholic church would have far less of the problems with molestation and other violations of trust that they're currently having. Yes, I think that's the answer. Only hire priests that look like Udo Kier. And Vladek Sheybal.

houseinrlyeh said...

Yes, but then they'd have to watch out what their priests would be doing to the angels.