Tuesday, March 26, 2013

HEADSOME: Do-It-Yourself Decapitation, I Mean, Filmmaking

Headsome (2013)
Dir. Pavel Nikolajev
Seen via: Nevermore Film Fest
Rating: 5.5 / 10

NOTE: The version of Headsome reviewed below was an early cut of the film screened at the Nevermore Film Fest. The final version has since been re-edited.

Underground research labs, evil twins, robots, and even head transplants - Headsome is a film that harkens back to the days before science caught up with science fiction, when all it took to have a major scientific breakthrough was an isolated basement room, some mail-ordered medical equipment, and an unwilling test subject. You can tell from their website that Nova Automatics, the team responsible for Headsome, treats filmmaking the same way - as something that's done best when it's assembled out of sweat, mail-order parts, and all the elbow grease they can muster.

The plot of Headsome is straightforward enough: a successful scientist named Mark is visited by his estranged twin brother Arthur (both played by William Haze) who's also a scientist, but of a slightly shadier variety. Just days after Arthur shows up in town, Mark falls prey to a horrible accident that threatens his life. Thankfully Arthur is there to save him, but has to sacrifice Mark's body in the process. Mark wakes up realizing he's now a decapitated head attached to a mobile robotic framework that's keeping him alive. What's worse, Arthur's jealousy of Mark's successful career tempts him to simply usurp Mark's identity... along with his wife. Mark struggles to fight back while trying to trick Arthur into reattaching his body - or at the very least, someone's body.

Headsome is a film grounded in DIY special effects, much of which are excellent. What's most impressive is the robotic rig upon which Mark's head rides for the majority of the film. Director/producer Pavel Nikolajev was responsible for the construction of the rig, whose robot arms were able to be controlled by joysticks from off camera. To avoid having to resort to actual decaptiation and the subsequent lawsuits that inevitably would have followed, Mark's head was attached to the rig via split-screen when it was stationary and replaced with a model head (complete with remote-controlled robotic features) when it needed to become mobile. The switch between the two is sometimes glaringly obvious, but for home-made effects they're great. After the first few times the fake head shows up, it doesn't even interrupt the flow of the film.

What does occasionally detract from the story is the script. Even at a brisk 81 minutes, Headsome feels a little long. Once Mark loses his head, he remains captive in the basement lab of his house, where the scenery doesn't change much. Arthur brings in various test subjects throughout this portion to keep things interesting, but some ruthless editing might have tightened up the experiments a little bit. This would have had to happen at the expense of shaving the runtime down to that unmarketable limbo between longform shorts and feature films, so I can understand why Nikolajev opted to go for a feature-length production. The use of professional actors gives the film the solid acting that so many indie features lack, and saves it from going under completely when it occasionally drags. Still, the highlight of the film is the mad science, and there's usually enough of that happening to keep things moving along. (To be fair, Headsome was the last film I saw after a long day of moviegoing at Nevermore, so this may be a complaint that's largely subjective.)

I also feel obligated to mention a couple of slightly problematic elements that may or may not affect how you view the film. A scene in which Arthur experiments on and kills a man that he picks up from a gay bar introduces some traces of homophobia that the film just doesn't need. Also, there are multiple references to evil "Asians" pursuing Arthur to obtain his work - I kept wondering why the generalization wasn't clarified...

On the whole, Headsome is an entertaining indie feature that slowly ramps up toward the madcap attitude that over-the-top material like this seems to demand. The film really takes off in the end, as can be seen in the teaser (don't watch if you're concerned about spoilers). If the focus and dedication devoted to the technical aspects of the film had also been applied to the writing, this would have been a ridiculously enjoyable movie. As it stands, it's a fun film with some good ideas that it aren't always followed through. I look forward to seeing future projects from Nova Automatics. Headsome shows that they have the drive, technical skill, and professionalism to really excel as independent filmmakers. And how can I not support a North Carolina-based filmmaking group that shows this much promise?

You can learn more about Headsome and Nova Automatics via their official site: novaautomatics.com. In addition to the effects I've discussed, they film all of their productions in 3D using a homemade steroscopic rig. Some demo videos are posted on their site - but you'll need your own 3D glasses.


  1. Thanks Eric, what a great review!
    -Pavel Nikolajev

    1. Thanks, Pavel - I eagerly await the final cut.