Synopsis: When Alex (Christopher Denham, Shutter Island) encounters a mysterious stranger, he begins to get smarter each day. It’s not long before he realizes that his new intellect comes with deadly side effects. Headaches and visions plague him at every step. Soon, savage unexplainable murders are linked to him. Now, it’s a race against time as Alex discovers that the source of this evil may not be human and the key to this mystery may be in his own past.
His journey in this psychological horror is aided by: Olivia Hussey (Stephen King’s IT), Dee Wallace Stone (Cujo), Udo Kier (Blade), Sean Young (Blade Runner), William Atherton (Ghostbusters), Mark Margolis (Black Swan), Paul Sparks (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), and Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman).
eyelights: its basic premise. Christopher Denham. its big name cameos.
eyesores: its performances. its finale.
‘Headspace’ is a low budget horror film by Andrew van den Houten. Originally released in 2005, it tells the story of Alex, a young genius who wanders about by day and house-sits by night. One day, after crossing paths with a chess player in a New York City park, his mental faculties begin to develop at an immeasurable rate.
But with that comes sharp, blinding headaches – and soon he finds himself under observation by medical staff, who discover that his frontal lobe activity is off the charts. He’s immediately referred to another specialist studying cases similar to his, except that he’s a unique case – his abilities soon wreak havoc around him.
People die. People die grisly deaths.
I honestly don’t know what compelled me to pick up this movie; aside for this 2012 “Director’s Cut” (which, amazingly, is 5 minutes shorter than the original theatrical version), I had never heard of it before. Though it made me curious when I saw the DVD at my local second hand shop, I still waited until the price dropped.
Then I pounced.
In any event, it was a really nice surprise: I was intrigued, fascinated, and stimulated. The whole time it made me think of a cross between ‘The Lawnmower Man‘ and ‘Altered States‘: drop the former’s cheap-@$$ virtual reality theme, replace it by the latter’s alternate dimension device, and boom, you’ve got ‘Headspace’.
Well, it’s not as simple as all that: there’s also a backstory to Alex, who has been separated from his brother and put into foster care by his own father after a series of terrifying incidents involving his mother. And there’s the no-small matter of how in God’s name Alex’s growing powers are influencing the world around him.
It’s more than enough to sustain this 84-minute piece.
Bolstering the picture is a terrific series of guest appearances by well-known actors playing small parts of even cameos: Sean Young as Alex’s mom, William Atherton and Dee Wallace as doctors, Udo Kier as a priest, Olivia Hussey as the specialist who consults with him and Mark Margolis as the scientist who knows the truth.
I sat there stunned when the opening credits rolled, seeing all these names roll by (or zap by, given the electric motif of the font), as I had no idea that this movie was so fully stocked. After the brief but punchy opening salvo, and given the gorgeous canvasses being painted on screen as backdrop for the credits, I was now hooked.
The picture held up nicely afterwards: it began by going back to show us Alex’s shocking family life before slowly unfurling its mystery. I was actually starting to think that this was going to be more of a science fiction/supernatural intrigue – until the first murder took place, startling me enough that I actually jumped.
Though this added a more visceral element of danger to the proceedings, I’d say that this is when the picture began to lose its hold on me; since it had very little left to set up anymore, to compensate it built up a confrontational finale, sending Alex in a tailspin, looking for help but endangering everyone in the process.
Sadly, the revelations that were intended to sustain this part of the picture (ex: the identity of the chess player that Alex befriends, or the nature of his power) are either so obvious or too sketchy to be satisfying. Had the answers been jaw-dropping, at least they wouldn’t have been overwhelmed by the grisly violence.
Thankfully, it star, Christopher Denham, is quite congenial and capable. I couldn’t quite place it, but his demeanor reminded me a little bit of another actor that I quite enjoy – possibly Johnny Depp at the start of his career. He has a subdued quirkiness about him that I appreciated and a sensitivity that made him relatable.
The rest of the cast was more impressive for their star power than their ability. While it was throwing b-movie stars all over the place, the picture’s performances were scattershot at best, with even some of my favourites (ex: Hussey) failing to be convincing. As for the rest of the cast, it was “Amateur Hour” for the most part.
Um… which made their characters’ macabre deaths unusually satisfying, actually.
For good or bad.
The film eventually takes us right back to the beginning, to the brief pre-credit sequence, which left me wondering exactly what happened to Alex in those final moments. This was double-edged sword because it stimulated my intellect as I tried to make sense of it, but it also unraveled more of the plot’s initial construction.
Still, for all its imperfections, ‘Headspace’ is an excellent example of what a low budget movie can achieve with enough creativity and craft. Oh, it’s not ‘Halloween‘ or ‘The Blair Witch Project’, I’ll grant anyone that, but there are tons of large-scale pictures that don’t even come close to succeeding in the way that this one does.
You just have to be in the right frame of mind.
Post scriptum: I must admit that I’m now rather curious to see what the original cut was like. Who wants to wager that I’ll track it down…?
Date of viewing: October 3, 2016