Two years after making his feature debut with Almost Human, writer-director Joe Begos is back at the Toronto International Film Festival with The Mind’s Eye. On the one hand, he certainly knows how to wow the midnight crowd with big, bold and very bloody fight sequences, but there’s only so far that’ll get you when you don’t have the story to support it.
The movie begins with Graham Skipper’s Zack. He’s walking down the road minding his own business when two cops stop him for no apparent reason. Zack tries to keep his cool, but the more they prod, the tougher it gets for him to hold it together and ultimately, he lashes out, unleashing his psychic abilities on them. After being taken into custody, Zack gets a visit from Dr. Slovak (John Speredakos), the head of an institute for individuals with telekinetic powers. He convinces Zack to come along with the promise that he’ll get to see his telekinetic girlfriend, Rachel (Lauren Ashley Carter). However, three months into his “treatment”, Zack comes to realize that Slovak isn’t out to help those with powers, but rather to use them to serve himself.
It’s a great premise, but Begos only seems to care about achieving one thing with it – hitting the point where he can go crazy with telekinetic carnage. For those eager for gore, it’s an absolute blast watching Zack and Rachel throw furniture, pop heads and split people in two, but the movie doesn’t have the character development, story or performances to make the gross-out moments anything more than fleeting thrills.
As someone who loves detail and world building, it’s especially disappointing that Begos didn’t bother to do much with Slovak’s institute and the current state of the world in regard to the existence of people with psychic power. Even though Begos and co. go big with effects, everything else about the movie feels small. The Mind’s Eye opens with text regarding the status of telekinetic individuals in the world, but then limits everything to the Slovak institute, and even that feels smaller than it should.
Slovak operates out of a rather nice house where Zack and another telekinetic named Armstrong (Matt Mercer) seem to be living relatively comfortably. It’s a pretty big house, but apparently those are the only two guys being held in it. Slovak has his office there and a staff of doctors and thugs, but it’s never made clear where they spend their downtime. It might sound like a trivial concern, but those are details that could have added a lot to the inner workings of the institute.
Slovak has a private residence to himself nearby and that’s where he keeps Rachel for his evil experiments. Turns out, he’s extracting something from her and Zack, and injecting it into himself so that he can have telekinetic powers of his own. Again, there’s something fun about the concept, but Begos doesn’t take it any further than it simply being the villain’s sinister agenda. Slovak comes across as a pretty bright guy so you’d think he’d have some sort of plan in mind, but based on his actions during the tail end of the film, it seems as though he’s doing all of this just so that he can have powers too, not because there’s something specific he wants to do with them.
Slovak also feels less and less threatening as Speredakos’ performance gets more and more cartoonish. The over-the-top behavior is somewhat in line with the tone of the film, but that doesn’t make it any less laughable, especially when the voice modulation kicks in. Skipper and Carter don’t make for particularly engaging heroes either. Skipper spends a good deal of the movie looking constipated, Carter is busy screaming half the time, and we learn little to nothing about who their characters are as people beyond the fact that they’re telekinetic. One of the best scenes of the entire film is one during which Zack recounts what happened when he first discovered he had powers. It doesn’t include a single drop of blood or gore, but it’s one of the most memorable moments of the movie because it’s a compelling story that reveals a little bit about why Zack is in this position now.
Regardless of the weak narrative, the practical effect and fight sequences are impressive. Noah Segan steps in as Travis, a former patient of Solvak’s who now works as one of his thugs. Between his eye patch and quiet demeanor, he’s always fun to watch, but he’s also part of this one especially fantastic fight sequence with Skipper, Carter and Michael A. LoCicero who plays another one of Solvak’s goons. The battle is so well shot and edited that it builds a good deal of tension and suspense, even if you don’t care much about what happens to the main characters. Brian Morvant also pops up for a quick fight as a character named Tommy. Honestly, I can’t remember seeing him in any of the film until he fights Zack in the third act but, again, it’s a very well done scene and Morvant also has the magnetism to turn Tommy into a curious character even though he serves absolutely no purpose in the rest of the movie.
The Mind’s Eye is definitely not for everyone – and probably not for most. There’s some fun to be had with the shock value of the film, but if you’re someone who needs adequate storytelling with your gore, it doesn’t work at all.
Click here for all of our TIFF 2015 coverage thus far or peruse links to our reviews below:
- 45 Years
- Being Charlie
- Black Mass
- The Danish Girl
- Eye in the Sky
- Green Room
- I Smile Back
- The Iron Giant: Signature Edition
- Kill Your Friends
- The Lobster
- Maggie’s Plan
- The Martian
- Men & Chicken
- Where to Invade Next