Case Number 23986: Small Claims Court


MVD Visual // 2005 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // June 15th, 2012

The Charge

Things from hell are after me...

The Case

When he was a little boy, Alex had a bad experience: His mother turned into a monster and tried to smite him. Fortunately, Dad was there to blow her off with a shotgun. After this unpleasant episode, Alex and his brother were sent to foster care, but his dreams are forever haunted by demons.

Now, 20 or so years later, Alex (Christopher Denham, Charlie Wilson's War) is a twitchy young man who suffers from headaches. One day, he has some sort of seizure and is rushed to the hospital. A scan reveals that his frontal lobe is over-active, which means he can do things like speed read and play chess really well. He also seems to have some kind of psychic power, which means he can anticipate what people are about to say and describe events that he didn't witness.

The down side: The monsters that have plagued his dreams are back and are decimating people around him, including casual acquaintances.

At least, that what it seems.

A low-key, cerebral, indie monster movie that seems drawn from spare parts of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, Headspace doesn't entirely work, but it's a more-than worthwhile effort. It eschews the usual, mindless slice-and-dice for a slightly more thoughtful slice-and-dice.

Rail-thin and disheveled, Denham makes for an appropriately haunted hero. Alex is clearly a damaged soul, rootless and barely functional, but obviously intelligent, even before the IQ burst. He seems like any other young, middle-class tragedy who's landed in New York City and is somehow scraping by. Denham plays up the character's fragility, and the film surrounds him with other damaged people, including a mysterious chess hustler (Erick Kastel, Ghostlight).

There's plenty of horror here, and while the monster attacks are suspenseful and graphically rendered, it's not the sort of "in your face" horror that's the usual hallmark of low-budget monster and slasher movies. Director Andrew van den Houten (Offspring) comes by his scares the old-fashioned way, with nice build-ups and decent pay-offs. The enigmatic nature of the narrative helps create tension.

And this is a problem with the film: it's a little too enigmatic. There are a lot of ideas introduced, and people talk about things, but after a while, it seems meandering and opaque. While the writing can be sharp, it's just as often clunky and moonish, deliberately portentous and abstract in a way that occasionally rings of hipster off-off-Broadway theater.

Sometimes, the vagueness works, as in the film's approach to Alex's relationship with some of the other characters; other times, it's just frustrating. Not everything has to be splayed out and explained, but for all the talk amongst the characters, a few too many questions remain at the end. While I generally liked this film, it's not something I'm going to spend time pondering.

And, it should be noted, showing us the monsters full-on might not have been the best idea.

And of course, Headspace contains the same enigma that plagues so many New York City-based indies: How does a guy who makes almost no money -- in this case, playing chess in the park -- afford a New York City apartment that's the size of Yankee Stadium?

One of the more interesting aspects of this film is the cast -- not the lead actors, who are fine, but a whole series of familiar faces who turn up in small, "cameo" roles: William Atherton (The Sugarland Express), Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas), Dee Wallace Stone (Cujo), Sean Young (Blade Runner), and cult vets Larry Fessenden (Habit) and Udo Kier (Mark of the Devil). It's not so much spot-the-star as it is check-IMDb to figure out where you've seen these folks before.

Headspace was released on DVD a few years ago. This new release is Headspace: Director's Cut, though not having seen the earlier version, I can't say how this one differs or if it's worth a double dip. I can say that in the tech department, this looks and sounds fine.

There's a good amount of supplemental material here, though most of it is ported from the earlier release. There are two commentaries; "Fractured Skulls," a good, comprehensive "making of" featurette; a "Photo Journal" detailing the make-up effects; deleted and alternate scenes; audition footage; and a trailer. The sole new extra is "Headspace Revisited," which features van den Houten and Denham meeting up for a look-back at the film.

The Verdict

Headspace is a better-than-average indie thriller that distinguishes itself with style and intelligence rather than ladles of rue. The DVD offers solid tech and worthwhile supplements. All in all, this gets a recommend.

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile
Studio: MVD Visual
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English

Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentaries
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes
* Featurettes
* Audition Footage
* Gallery
* Trailer

* IMDb

* IMDb: Fractured Skulls: The Making of Headspace