Tuesday, 11 October 2011

DVD Review: Evil Things

Directed By Dominic Perez
Starring: Elyssa Mersdorf, Morgan Hooper, Ryan Maslin, Torrey Weiss, Laurel Casillio
It's Miriam's 21st Birthday. As a birthday gift, Miriam's aunt Gail has decided to lend Miriam her beautiful country house for an entire weekend. Aunt Gail's country house is amazing. It's a four bedroom house surrounded by breathtaking mountains and miles and miles of woods. Miriam invites her young college friends Cassy, Mark, Tanya and Leo to join her at the country house for what looks to be the most amazing weekend ever. Things get off to a sinister start though, as they encounter a van on route that starts stalking them. After they get settled into the house, they are unsettled by strange noises and occurances which lead them to believe that their “friend” in the van might still be nearby...and then a videotape arrives on their doorstep...

They say that if you copy something enough times, the quality degrades and that’s now happening with the found footage genre of movies. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know that I like the genre, just as I like the zombie genre. The trouble is, like the zombie genre, filmmakers realise that they can make it on the cheap and use it as a directorial debut. Dominic Perez’s debut isn’t bad, it’s just badly timed. The TV series The Walking Dead has effectively made the idea of making any future nil-budget zombie movies redundant. Sadly, we will still get these efforts winging their way on DTV. Some will be good, some bad. 
The Paranormal Activity franchise is helping to spur on studios to get filmmakers to create more found footage movies. So far, nothing mainstream (not even the PA movies) has been so good as to overshadow the genre with quality. Cloverfield came very close but it was one of the first mainstream examples that arguably started out with the mondo genre and arrived at Cannibal Holocaust. Then, Blair Witch brought the genre on to the screen again complete with an exceptional and atmospheric marketing campaign. The only series, in my view that eclipses most of the genre is the Spanish REC series. They’re superbly made with the right amount of tension and scares, but they’re not mainstream.

Ok, so Evil Things. Is it any good? It’s well made, for an ultra low budget thriller, but a little “So what?”

The direction and cinematography are both competent with little of the shaky camerawork that is a staple part of the genre but ultimately the thing that most people hate about it. I liked the framing and editing of shots, especially with the ambiguity of the van stalking the kids during the first act. The kids themselves are clearly first time actors but are no more annoying than any other characters in these movies. The guys seem a bit lacking in personality, and one of the girls gets so hysterical I was hoping she’d get a slap to calm her down; especially when she was supposed to be making a call to the police but couldn’t stop snivelling. I hope that my fate never rests on someone like that.
Laurel Casillo, as Cassy, comes out of this quite well. She was very good and shows promise for an acting career, especially with the impression of her boyfriend’s mother. It was genuinely funny.

The first act is typically scene setting. The group attract a stalker (or stalkers) in a van that appears to follow them. I wasn’t particularly eagle-eyed during this and liked the ambiguity that it might not be the same van every time they thought it was. It’s easy to relate to the characters while they are on the road and getting harassed by the vehicle. I’m sure many of us have had to put up with assholes on the road that seem to stay on our tails on a lengthy straight road.

The tension increases when they arrive at a house with no lighting and the subsequent Blair Witch style forest walk. The mis-en-scene was particularly bad with a house that has no curtains in winter! I get that the group had to be open and vulnerable to the antagonists but come on, let’s have some reality here, after all it’s supposed to emulate reality and not be a fantasy.

 It’s not until they get a suspicious set of phone calls and a knock on the front door that things get a lot tenser. They receive a video tape that shows their movements since they hit the road. It’s the people in the van. It’s easy to empathise with the young people in this scene but the following events don’t live up to the promise. The feeling of oncoming dread isn’t followed satisfactorily by any real scenes of scares. There’s one where a door slams and presumably the occupant of the room meets an untimely end. It’s illogical, and makes no sense if you think about it. What follows is a half-assed finale, with an odd epilogue.

Although it’s effective in its execution, the score used is totally out of place in a found footage movie, unless we’re supposed to believe that the guy in the epilogue has added it. It’s something that takes us a little out of the movie. A noise that we hear during the forest scene doesn’t add up either. It sounds vaguely like a sound effect from the movie Predator. It turns up during the end credits too. What it portrays is anyone’s guess.

Dominic Perez should not be put off by bad reviews as I think that there’s talent there and future projects should be carefully considered.
The bottom line is that Evil Things does not deliver the goods. There are far superior movies of this type currently doing the rounds. A movie with such little palpable ambition would have been ok at the beginning of the surge of found footage titles. But with REC having set the bar, it has been left behind by movies like Grave Encounters. It’s a shame that the last act of the movie is so shoddy and that we have no idea of what happens to the protagonists. (We’re pretty sure that they’re dead but have no idea what the antagonists were doing with them). It’s not left in an air of mystery, it’s just left. That said, there are positives that I listed above. Whether they’re enough to interest you is down to your taste. I feel that without the inclusion of cuss words, the film could easily have been a 12 rating. The movie would have worked far better without the swearing and if it was made clear that this was made to appeal, and to scare, younger generations.

Score: 4/10

By the way, to the imdb “reviewer” who thinks movies should be graded based upon the size and scale of the production. Really? A movie should entertain whether it’s a big budget Summer tentpole or a low budget indie flick. There should be no separation.

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