Almost Human (review) is the debut feature from director Joe Begos. An alien invasion thriller on par with films like The Hidden and Fire in the Sky, this is one of those films which brings a lot to the table as far as paranoia and gooey threat. Begos has created a world that lives and breathes in the heartland of America.
When they say “Home is where the heart is," you definitely feel it with a film like this. Luckily, we were able to sit down with James and talk about the film that reminds us that whatever is out there in space is probably "almost human"…
Shock Till You Drop: Tell me about Almost Human…
Joe Begos: It is an alien abduction slasher movie that I’ve been pitching as a Terminator meets Fire in the Sky. I made it super low budget and I knew we were gonna go back home to make it. Growing up and around Road Island, it’s basically a Stephen King movie so what better place to set a movie. I’ve also always been fascinated with alien abduction and alien abduction movies but there are really three good ones. XTRO, Fire in the Sky, and Communion. The thing that was most interesting is that the movie has to start off with the abduction. I’m not good at writing character dramas so let’s just get to the abduction and start with that. I knew I was gonna start off with the alien abduction so what’s the coolest way to go. I know, I’ll make a Terminator-esque , Maniac-style slasher movie. That’s where it all came from. 15 years of thinking about making a feature and everything was thrown into this blender of a kitchen sink, alien action horror movie. That about sums it up.
Shock: You also were the cinematographer on the film and it looks really good. How long have you been shooting?
Begos: I have been making shorts and music videos for about ten years and I started off shooting them myself just because it was organic and that’s how it was. My last couple of short films before this, I had a DP, but I would operate the camera, choose the lenses, pick the lighting. So he was basically a glorified gaffer. It kind of happened like that and now that I’ve done it , it feels like it’s part of the process for me. A lot of the credit of the look of the film goes to our DI artist. I thought he made it look really close to 16mm which is kinda the feel that I wanted.
Shock: We don’t get a lot of these kinds of films. What inspired this one for you?
Begos: Just growing up in Road Island and having a fascination with alien abductions, so I always knew I wanted to write one. Basically the genesis of this was me wanting to make a movie and then making the best one I could with the resources available to me.
Shock: Did you have an entire mythology set up for this alien race?
Begos: No real mythology. It was just basically what you see. They are coming back and trying to replicate. I did toy with the idea that maybe this is happening all over the place but I didn’t want to expand that out because then you have to delve into that more. Then there was the first guy that also disappears and doesn’t come back. That may come into play in the future, in a sequel, if that ever happens.
Shock: Every horror film needs one scene that blows the doors off. Let’s talk about the bedroom attack on Jen.
Begos: People were saying that was ridiculous to write in but I knew that we needed a hook and to me that’s what it was. I had designed it specifically so that if the actress didn’t want to do it, I could shoot it with a body double, but luckily, the actress that we found was totally cool with it, so it’s glued right to her! We ripped it off and reversed it so its shooting out and sticking, but that was glued on her.
Shock: How was the reaction on set?
Begos: When the lead actor [Graham Skipper] comes around the corner with the gun and sees it, well, it was a closed set so he hadn’t seen it. So, I blocked the shot and told the actor; “You’re gonna come around the corner and just react to what you see. “ And I shot his reaction from across the bed and it was great.
Shock: How did it play with an audience?
Begos: We screened it at Toronto and it’s been playing the festival circuit. I’ve seen it with a lot of audiences. There is like a combination of gasps, clapping, laughing, and shouting, so it all goes together. It’s definitely best to see it like that. That seen gets that reaction and when the beam hits the guy at the beginning and the title slams the screen, it also gets that reaction. Oh, and the rock at the end (wicked smile).
Shock: You have a decent amount of special effects in the film like the cocoons and such. Were those difficult to do and was that the biggest part of your budget?
Begos: That was about 20% of our budget, but it would have cost more to do it digitally. A lot of people were saying that you can’t do this all practically, we shot our movie in three weeks, we had all those set pieces, we had all those effects, and there’s not one digital shot in the movie. We did some clean-up of course, but we didn’t add any effects.
Shock: Was that process smoother?
Begos: Now obviously, the effects don’t come out the way you want but when you’re on set, you can pick and choose how to shoot them so they look the best. You can change the lighting, you can change the angle, whereas if you do it with digital you’re stuck with it.
Shock: If you get to do a sequel. Where would you like to take the story?
Begos: I have a first act that I think would be awesome. It’s kind of like Halloween II meets Aliens.
Shock: What’s next in the pipeline?
Begos: I’ve got a couple of things I’m working on, my dream second film is a script I wrote that’s a telekinetic revenge movie that’s like Death Wish meets Scanners. Really brutal, a lot of action, a lot of sci-fi Elements, that’s what I really want to do next. I’m also playing around with an anthology movie that I would just do myself. A lot of the anthology movies today are different directors for each segment, which is cool, but all my favorites are Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, stuff where it’s one director. I feel like that’s a great sandbox to play in. Then depending on the reception of this, I’d like to do a part two if it works out.
Almost Human opens theatrically and on VOD on February 21st.