STUDIO: Unearthed Films
RATED: NOT RATED
RUNNING TIME: 90 Minutes
What if Goosebumps had gratuitous nudity, sex, violence, and a love of 90’s cyber-punk?
Director: Andrew Allan
Writer: Andrew Allan, Andy Lalino
Cast: Chris Jackson, Somali Rose, Rod Grant, and Christopher Sarlls.
Roomin’ with Nick Oliveri was a different breed of reality show.
Tristan (Jackson) is a sullen teen from a broken home. All he wants in life is some direction and respite from his chronic migraines, so when the smooth-talking Doctor Karas (Grant) offers him a cure through his special “treatment”, everything seems wonderful. However, as Tristan becomes swept up in Karas’s mysterious underworld of troubled teens, a distinct air of danger and cult-like insanity begins to emerge.
There’s also the little matter of the Doctor’s secret, brainwashing drill hand which he likes to shove into people’s skulls to consider.
Brainjacked comes on like the lovechild of Hackers and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978.) The lovechild of Hackers and Invasion of the Body Snatchers written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, to be precise; all pumping, dated techno music and corny action. There are more than a few scenes straight out of the Final Draft Handbook’s twist section, too. If someone appears genuine and, above all, not totally evil, there’s usually a DUN DUN DUUUUUUN reveal to the contrary. Director Andrew Allan and co-writer Andy Lalino must be huge fans of The X-Files, because “trust no-one” might as well be flashing across the screen at all times.
While I didn’t see all of Chris Carter’s series or both its big-screen outings, I don’t remember Mulder and Scully meeting a “Doctor” who drills open people’s heads in order to control them. Advantage: Brainjacked? Not quite.
With crowds at their concerts getting increasingly out of hand, the Jonas Brothers insisted on handling backstage security themselves.
At its heart, there’s a decent if unoriginal premise. Using brainwashing as a metaphor for suburban conformity fits the film’s rebellious, coming of age tone nicely, and, in Dr. Karas, the film has a villain straight out of the Dr. Herbert West school for bonkers physicians (always a plus.) Karas is a repugnant man who uses his mind control remote to make youngsters kill their parents and girls fancy him so the stage is clearly set for Tristan to tell the not so good Doc exactly where he can stick his quick fix to life’s problems. Although handled in a less than bravura fashion, there’s definite evolution when Tristan finally grows a pair. An early moment or two spell out the “don’t take drugs, kids!” message a little too clearly, but the film’s target audience are probably too hepped up on goofballs to notice.
Fun Brainjacked fact: Dr. Problems says his drill process is called “trepanation”; I say “Black and Decker wouldn’t approve of you misappropriating their wares, sir!”
The performances, like the production values, are what you’d expect from a “B” sci-fi/horror film. Chris Jackson doesn’t breathe new life into the angst-ridden teen archetype, but he isn’t its worst offender either (hello, Jake Ryan of Sixteen Candles!) Jackson also deserves credit for steering clear of the obvious “emo” angle lesser actors would have resorted to. Tristan’s not a weedy wiseguy or hulking simpleton. He’s just a regular kid angry at the world and Jackson never lets us forget that by keeping his colouring well within the “SHUT UP, MOM!” lines. Somali Rose is merely adequate as Laney, Tristan’s generic love-interest. Like Jackson, the script cuts Rose’s work out for her. There’s nothing new about the way these kindred spirits come together, yet the pair’s chemistry carries the film through worse moments.
Every time Rod Grant’s Dr. Karas appears is one of these worse moments. When he starts “menacing” people, it’s brutal for character and viewer alike. It’s not Grant’s fault he doesn’t look convincingly evil. Nor is it his fault that he can’t deliver dialogue or frown without smiling. It’s Andrew Allan’s for allowing him to play the villain in his film. Grant simply doesn’t have the chops to convince as a silver-tongued maniac (especially, when spouting the medical hokum regarding his procedures) and anyone in their right mind would see through it immediately. There’s not a home or headache in the world awful enough to make someone that stupid. The idea that this white-coated Pied Piper could dupe his way to global control is nothing short of preposterous so it’s a good thing the film’s ambitious ideas are kept to a small scale instead of a global one.
It was a disappointing enrollment day at Professor Xavier’s less prestigious School For Sleepy Children.
Incredibly, Grant’s not the worst offender. Dr. Karas’s crimes against thespianity are dwarfed by those of Chirstopher Sarlls’s Zane, the ex-patient turned vigilante. Sarlls starts off at an immediate disadvantage; poor screenwriting means that he’s alluded to early on, only to be shoved in during the pacey second act. That said, Sarlls does nothing to help himself by growling his way through dialogue like there’s no tomorrow. His Anti-Hero voice is so ridiculously deep and affected it makes Christian Bale’s Batman seem restrained. If that sounds at all like hyperbole played for laughs, I assure you it isn’t. Allan’s film was beginning to conquer its budgetary and narrative limitations, until Zane finally showed up. Once he does, everything becomes 100% funnier because he’s always barking and scowling lines like “IT’S TIME TO TURN IN YOUR BADGE!” before beating a policeman to death. It’s tonally out of place and an irreparable narrative blow.
Andrew Allan makes the best of his modest budget, even managing to wrangle a few impressive shots during Tristan and Laney’s chase sequence. Surprises are few; even the aesthetic palette of black, red, green, and lots more black is thoroughly, unmistakably cyber-punk. The film ends rather abruptly, in search of a shock like that of An American Werewolf in London. It’s also a convenient excuse for a post-credit sequel set-up. What these ideas lack in quality, they make up for with heart. In this type of flick, that goes a long way.
Joe Stainface never suspected the very soundproof Bose headphones he loved so dearly would be his undoing.
There’s a surprising amount of decent practical gore, for such a small film. Almost every moment of “surgery” the “Doctor” performs is wince-inducing. Gooey chunks of flesh fly left and right, culminating in a memorable scene where someone actually sheds all their skin for a ruddy, dripping skeletal husk. An eye is gouged, a heart is ripped out through someone’s back, but the greatest moment of all is reserved for the climactic battle with Dr. Feelawholelotworse. Let’s just say it’s not every day you see a man drill his face into crater-shaped oblivion. Kudos, then, to respected special effects artists Marcus Koch and Mark Angenola (The Uh-oh Show) for delivering these moments with real aplomb. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys watching a frozen face being smashed to pieces or someone’s eyeballs popping like two macabre water balloons (and, let’s face it, if you’re reading CHUD, there’s a good chance you are)* you’ll find something to enjoy here.
* If you identified the two kill examples above, congratulations! You have good taste in horror movie fatalities. If you didn’t:
- How did you find this place?
- Do yourself a favour and watch Jason X & Re-Animator. Well, maybe just watch that one bit from Jason X, but definitely watch Re-Animator.
‘Tis a screener so there’s no trailer or anything but the film itself to report on. Lack of special features notwithstanding, the A/V side of this disc is a bit of a mixed bag. Picture quality fares best; even with so many dark sequences, the film comes through crisp and clear. Sound quality is less successful. The few moments without dialogue or dodgy gloomcore dance music in the movie feature an odd crackling sound similar to white noise. It’s not bad enough to make the film unwatchable (if Rod Grant and Christopher Sarlls couldn’t do that, nothing can) but it is distracting enough to take the viewer out of the experience for a few seconds, something a picture like Brainjacked can ill afford.