• Fantastic Fest Day 1: Remakes, aliens and CGI blood

    Joe Begos, writer and director of "Almost Human," introduces the horror film at the opening night of this year's Fantastic Fest. Photo courtesy of Fantastic Fest. 
    Joe Begos, writer and director of "Almost Human," introduces the horror film at the opening night of this year's Fantastic Fest. Photo courtesy of Fantastic Fest. 

    Remakes are tricky, walking a thin line between honoring the original and desecrating its grave. “Patrick”, which premiered last night at Fantastic Fest, obviously comes from a place of genuine affection. The director, Mark Hartley, touched on the original “Patrick” in his documentary about Australian cinema, “Not Quite Hollywood”, and remade the film for his feature debut. The result is a heavily atmospheric thriller that drags through its first act before picking up speed as it barrels towards an endearingly bonkers climax.

    “You’re Next”’s Sharni Vinson stars as Kathy, a nurse at a hospice for long-term coma patients. Dr. Roget (Charles Dance) is the maniacal head of the facility, using brutally unconventional methods to awaken brain activity in his patients. Kathy is the first to notice unusual behavior from Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), and once he starts openly communicating with her, the film turns from misguided love story to telekinetic slasher flick.

    As Patrick’s developing powers become more and more pronounced, they also become increasingly inconsistent, with Patrick taking control of some people’s minds and merely tossing objects at others. “Patrick” is full of jump scares, some more inspired than others, and for the first half of the film, they exist mostly to give breaks in the exposition. However, the film ratchets up the intensity as it heads towards its finale, and the crackling climax, full of creative demises and genuine tension, is hugely entertaining.

    Unfortunately, despite its good momentum, the film never seems to fully engage its actors to the fullest of their potential. Sharni Vinson is charming and compassionate as the nurse-turned-victim, but doesn’t match the charisma she displayed in “You’re Next,” and the film’s attempts to give her character a backstory are hasty and uninteresting. It’s always a pleasant surprise to see Charles Dance show up in the credits, and he plays strict and authoritarian with his usual haughty elegance, but fails to bring any discernible personality to the role. Given the much shorter end of the stick, Rachel Griffiths, Peta Sergeant, and Martin Crewes all function purely as plot mechanism, with the script losing interest in them as soon as they deliver their requisite exposition.

    “Patrick”’s greatest sin is being merely capable throughout, distracting enough to hold your attention but too lightweight to leave much of an impression, and is far from the best film I saw at Fantastic Fest last night.

    That honor goes to “Almost Human,” a gratuitously gory alien riff with its heart squarely in the 1980’s. Writer/director Joe Begos tells the story of a man abducted by aliens returning two years later to lead an invasion with a charming DIY style, and finds some suitably gross moments to earn the film its midnight slot at Fantastic Fest.

    The opening night film, “Machete Kills,” is similarly retro, with fun moments throughout (often punctuated with unconvincing splashes of CGI blood) that would be right at home in a goofy 80’s flick. The massive cast provides lots of fun surprises, with Mel Gibson and Demian Bichir giving admirably manic performances as the film’s tag-team villains, and Danny Trejo’s unruffled charisma as the titular character is always welcome. Unfortunately, the film details itself halfway through, setting its eyes on a third installment without wrapping itself up.