You have to wade through a lot of inherent problems when you set out to make a low-budget horror movie: limited funds, an overglutted marketplace, jaded genre fans, etc. And lots of times the creators of the Low-Budget Horror Movie don't even bother trying; all they're after is a colorful "hook," a marketable villain, enough shock footage to fill a trailer, and a somewhat alluring DVD cover to bring the viewers in. Stuff like mood, pacing, and originality rarely even enter into the equation.
Which makes a movie like Headspace such a quiet little surprise. I certainly wouldn't go on record calling it a brilliant horror film, but there's a notable amount of talent, style, and (most importantly) effort on display here, and those components go a pretty long way to keeping the flick in a viewer's good graces.
Directed by a first-timer who clearly has some talent, Headspace is the story of a lonely young man who survives a horrific childhood incident involving a lunatic mom and a shotgun, only to become a disaffected drifter with a taste for chess. But when Alex Borden (a really excellent Christopher Denham) becomes the newest pet project to a bunch of brain doctors, it soon becomes gorily evident that Alex has a connection to some decidedly Lovecraftian beasties from another dimension.
If Headspace suffers from one glaring problem, it's that of simple dragginess. While the flick never becomes tiresome or downright boring, one wishes director Andrew van den Houten could have struck a better balance between the "talky plot stuff" and the "creepy brain-monster material." On the plus side, the movie moves along at a brisk clip (which helps to make the "talky" stuff a lot more digestible), the direction belies a guy with more talent than budget, and the cast is surprisingly strong for such a low-price production.
Like most half-decent low-budget shockers, Headspace boasts a colorful collection of character actors (including William Atherton, Dee Wallace Stone, Sean Young, Udo Kier, Olivia Hussey, and Larry Fessenden), but it's the new faces that stand out most strongly. Chris Denham anchors the flick with a commanding lead performance, which is good because there's so many ways this character could have come off as whiny or goofy or just plain weird. As Alex's newfound chess partner, Erick Kastel contributes a small but strong performance as well.
So no, it's not non-stop monsters and a mega-high body count, but Headspace is an satisfyingly slick, smart and creepy little affair. One suspects that, armed with a healthier budget, this van den Houten kid could eventually become a breakout genre name.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer is about as strong as you could reasonably expect from a movie like this. Maybe even a little better.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is quite strong, and a 2.0 track is also included for some reason. English Captions and Spanish subtitles are included.
Wow. Well, under the audio options you'll find a pair of audio commentaries, one with director Andrew van den Houten and cinematographer/co-writer William M. Miller, and the other with composer Ryan Shore, editor Elwaldo Baptiste, and FX artist Jamie Kelman. I briefly flipped through both chat-tracks and found them to be rather enthusiastic, humble, and all sorts of indie-style informative.
Also included among the audio options is a score-only track, which is a cool little touch if you ask me.
Over in the extras section we have a very good featurette called Fractured Skulls: The Making of Headspace (26:26), which takes you through the movie's themes, casting, shooting, FX work, etc., as well as a 7-minute FX photo journal, a 2-minute piece entitled Creatures Gone Wild: Bringing Them to Life, 18 (!) deleted/alternate scenes, a strange 2-minute mini-movie called Dirty Looks, the Headspace theatrical trailer, another photo gallery, and some talent bios.
I sift through dozens of small-time horror movies just to find a few pieces of buried treasure, and while Headspace definitely isn't a flawless little concoction, it's a fairly intelligent, creepy, and well-crafted piece of indie moviemaking.