Manitoba’s best horror purveyors aim for (and almost achieve) a lo-fi Buffy vibe

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Psycho Goreman
Friday 22

2.5 out of 5

Psycho Goreman isn’t a middle-of-the-road flick that comes up just short of three-star respectibility. There’s a lot to like about this clever horror/sci-fi/comedy hybrid, but its low-fi limitations — purposefully or not — get in the way of the enjoyment.

Directed by Steve Kostanski (one-half of the team behind The Void), Psycho Goreman takes place in Manitoba but goes for an Everytown vibe: no Canadiana in sight. Two pre-teens — one a pushover, the other a sociopath — dig up a powerful alien lord capable of destroying civilizations with a flick of his wrist. Unfortunately for Budget Thanos, he must obey the individual in possession of the gem that imprisoned him. In this case, Mimi, the evil little girl who freed him.

Forced to serve as playmate/punching ball for the kids, the alien rechristened Psycho Goreman (PG for short) complies with the children’s designs to hilarious and gory effect. Meanwhile, at the other side of the galaxy, those who imprisoned the intergalactic warlord in the first place are planning to get rid of him for good.

The initial moral clarity becomes muddled as the powers who exiled PG reveal themselves to be despotic and partial to slavery. In turn, Psycho Goreman… stays a prick throughout but at least he’s reliable.

A script strong enough to balance budget constraints is a must for indie filmmakers. Kostanski delivers an ambitious one: the origin story of Psycho Goreman is rich in mythos, and comedy pearls are found all over. The film covers considerable ground in 90 minutes with little flab, like a special episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

A lot of attention is paid to costumes and practical effects. The gore is very effective while the sci-fi and “magic” FX have a chinzy-but-endearing Doctor Who quality.

Even if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief to a larger extent than usual for entertainment’s sake, Psycho Goreman has some weak spots that hurt the outcome. The biggest problem materializes whenever the movie shifts gears to “action” mode. If you know you can’t afford set pieces, don’t make them the centerpiece of your movie. The final confrontation, anchored by a dodgeball-like game conceived by (who else) Mimi, is poorly planned and badly shot. One could be more forgiving if it wasn’t the climax.

The light of day can be unforgiving to the costumes but bad acting is impossible to hide. The performances are amateurish almost across the board with the notable exception of Psycho Goreman himself (Matthew Ninaber and Steven Vlahos) and the off-kilter comedy of Adam Brooks as Mimi’s doting, useless dad. The young lead, Nita-Josee Hanna, has “insouciant” down but lacks the “Kevin McCallister Gene” that would make her likeable while she’s gleefully crippling people.

There are mistakes that should have been spotted and solved, like casting people with sensible haircuts to play cops. Yes, there could’ve been intentionality in this decision but to me it comes across as shoddy.

And don’t get me started on the consumer-grade-video-camera look.

It’s nothing short of amazing that in spite of these serious issues, Psycho Goreman is heaps of fun. It’s unpredictable early on and takes some big swings down the middle (are they really trying to pull an E.T. on us?). I applaud the chutzpah. I’m just asking for the commitment to follow through.