Mind Leech

Mind Leech (2023)

“I feel trapped,” Craig Hoser (co-director Paul Krysinski) tells his ice-fishing buddy ‘Juicy’ Josh Henderson (Daniel James McGee) in Mind Leech. “Day in day out, I’m just driving my shitty little truck to my shitty little job, and after work I drive on to my shitty little house and live out the rest of my shitty little meaningless life, you know, like one of thes pathetic little fish in this pond… I want to go to a bigger lake, or, I dunno… Maybe I’m just thinking too much about it.”

The altogether more sanguine and less introspective Juicy certainly thinks his lugubrious friend is overthinking things. “What the fuck are you talking about?”, Juicy says. “Water’s water, man – you can find everything you’re looking for right here, man. You just need to have a drink with your buddy.” Mind Leech lets you have it both ways: for on the one hand, it is the kind of dumb-assed cheapo B picture that lets you sit back with your friends and a brew or two, take in the simple pleasures of a small-town entertainment, and have a laugh; while on the other, it encompasses serious real-world themes like water pollution and corporate cover-up, which come uncomfortably close to home in frack-happy Canada where the film was made. 

Both these aspects of the film combine in the opening scene where a feckless pair of chemical company workers (Hugh Goodden and writer/co-director Chris Cheeseman) are shown illegally dumping a canister of toxic waste into Old Miller’s Pond, all the while hilariously quipping (the script was largely improvised by the cast), and chugging cans generically marked ‘Beer Brand’ as though they were occupying the same filmic universe as Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984). Through the opening titles, underwater shots show the noxious, blue-tinged effluent spilling from the canister into the pond’s murky ecosystem as a suggestion of grave, unnatural consequences just waiting to spill over. Yet the knowing credit ‘Cheeseman presents’, accompanied by Zak Hanna and the Leechtones’ Eighties synth score, promises, not inaccurately, a cheesy experience akin to a Troma film (specifically, Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman’s The Toxic Avenger, 1984). 

Set in the rural (and fictive) Provinstate – evidently a blend of ‘province’ and ‘prostate’ – over a freezing Boxing Day in 1998, Mind Leech is indeed, as Craig’s words had intimated, a tale of big fish in small ponds. While Craig has started to wonder if his parochial life is all there is and to think about expanding his horizons, conversely Deputy Terrika ‘TJ’ Johnson (Steff Ivory Conover) has blown in from the big smoke, abandoning her dream of becoming a police detective in the city for more reined-in ambitions here – for which she is eminently overqualified – with her husband (who has a local engineering job with Chem Corp). Provinstate is so small that Benjamin Pailey (Mischa O’Hoski) – the local Sheriff, just like his father was – literally knows everyone, and the police partners pend most of their time investigating nothing more than roadkill. 

Yet there is something else that, along with Craig, feels like a goldfish trapped in a bowl. A leech, enlarged and mutated presumably by that chemical spill, leaps from the pond and attaches itself to Craig’s head, merging its own desire to escape into bigger waters with its human host’s. Like the parasitic Elmer in Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage (1988), the leech takes control of Craig’s mind, sending him on a violent vengeful spree against any other humans that he encounters (this is definitely a nature’s revenge film) en route to the creature’s ultimate goal: a large lake. 

In this otherwise friendly municipality, Deputy Terrika and Sheriff Pailey now find themselves in hot (yet cold) pursuit of a murderer leaving a rising body count in his/its/their trail. Craig has become confused, disposable vehicle to an alien controller, like Vincent D’Onofrio’s bewildered Edgar in Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men In Black (1997) – and these lonely, snow-covered spaces have all gone a bit Dreamcatcher (Lawrence Kasdan, 2003). Knowingly absurd, utterly gonzo and effortlessly charming, Mind Leech is a low-budget psychotronic joy that knows its place and loves its characters – and coming in at just an hour in length, it knows exactly what it is and where its boundaries lie, and unlike Craig and the leech (but like Terrika), is content to make the most of its narrow confines. The result is a modest, affectionate portrait of an emerging, entirely avoidable ecological disaster that starts small, and sucks only in a good way. 

strap: In Chris Cheeseman & Paul Krysinski’s Canuxploitation creature feature, smalltown sensibilities meet a chemically souped-up sanguisuge

© Anton Bitel