When making a film, one needs make many decisions. The director must get to the core of what the film is, to the heart of the film. In Joe Begos’ second feature The Mind’s Eye, it is very clear what was prioritised as that core, namely mountains of blood and exploding bodies. The Mind’s Eye is promoted as some kind of spiritual sequel to David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) and Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978), and Begos’ film obviously takes it’s cues from these works. One gets the feeling though, that Begos and his buddies would fast forward through those overlong, talky bits to get straight to the gore, and that is what you get with The Mind’s Eye.
Set in the early 1990’s, The Mind’s Eye opens with Zach Conners (Graham Skipper) getting picked up by local police while walking down a snowy country road in the middle of nowhere. Connors is a powerful psychokinetic who can’t control his powers, so things go badly for the police. He is however captured and handed over to the sinister Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos) who promises to reunite Connors with his long lost friend, fellow psychokinetic Rachel Meadows (Lauren Ashley Carter), if he agrees to go to his secret research facility for “help”. Of course, Dr Slovak isn’t quite a man of his word, and instead of reuniting the pair, he exploits their powers for his own benefit. Connors and Rachel escape, as Dr Slovak grows more powerful, culminating in the inevitable showdown.
With Begos’ decision to prioritise the impressively realised practical special effects, he has sacrificed other occasionally important aspects of film, namely script development, frame composition, performances, and drama. Our “hero” is unlikeable from the start, and no character, other than possibly the under-utilised Rachel, is vaguely likeable. The evil Dr Slovak has a predictable arsenal of oafish thugs to help him run his research barn containing deadly psychokinetics, and their repeated ineptness is laughable, much like the poor Stormtroopers in Star Wars who can never seem to shoot straight.
Rather than waste time with story, the first act is lumbered with far too much expositionary dialogue. There is no room for character development of any kind, but you get the feeling that all of that boring stuff is unimportant to Joe Begos. In an interview with AV Club, Begos brags that he doubled the shooting schedule in order to make time to shoot all of the excessive, albeit impressive, practical visual effects. One gets the feeling that if he had actually studied the films which he so blatantly “references”, he might have noticed that there is actual plot, tension, and most importantly in reference to Cronenberg, a deep psychological aspect to these films. With The Mind’s Eye we get none of that, it’s all exploding heads and gushes of blood. I also get the feeling that Begos spent more time watching volumes of Scream Greats than the films he claims inspired him with this feature. The Mind’s Eye isn’t all bad, it just depends on what you are looking for when you watch a movie. If you want a dumb, mostly fun, extremely gory romp, then The Mind’s Eye will do you well.
If the film was released in the time it was set, it would have been a straight to video shocker that all my high school friends would have rented, and loved. Watching this brought to mind Panos Cosmatos’ 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow, which similarly mines the early works of Cronenberg for its concept. Beyond the Black Rainbow was a much more successful film, as it had its own philosophy, which is one thing The Mind’s Eye certainly doesn’t have. Joe Begos is a young director, and he has certain talents, mostly his dedication to blowing bodies up. This is definitely a teenage sleepover type film, which is fine for what it is. I feel that there was definitely potential for a much better film if Begos had opted for script and performance over axes to the face, but that was his decision.
There is so much smart horror being made these days that a film like The Mind’s Eye will probably not make much of a dent, which is a shame as Begos has potential as a director. There is nothing wrong with B-movies, but considering we don’t live in the video store age anymore, it is difficult to see this film getting much attention outside of hardcore horror fans. Gore aficionado’s will go wild for this film, but I don’t think it will carry across much more broadly than that. The set pieces are well done, but the problem is there is nothing to care about in this film. It is too serious to be camp, not quite badly acted enough to be unintentionally funny, not intelligent enough to be scary. I hope that Joe Begos decides to spend a little more time developing his next script, but after reading the description for it, I think he is going to try to outdo the excessive deaths. All the best Joe, let’s see how many exploding bodies you can squeeze into your next film.