Evil Things (2009)
Directed by Dominic Perez
I've been on a tear reviewing some indie horror films of late (see The Landlord and Thicker than Water: The Vampire Diaries). Its a credit to the fact that I want the jaded viewer to be a haven of where little engines that could can reap the benefits of getting press and pub from the horror-sphere.
Because it's the indie filmmakers that put Hollywood on their toes. This is where creativity is still alive and where we the audience can go to when we're sick of the umpteenth Saw film or the remake of another remake.
So I'm glad director Dominic Perez sent me over a screener of his film Evil Things. The first thing when I received it was I thought I was being busted by the FBI. The packaging of this little film is done quite inventively.
As you can see below, we get an "official" FBI letter (not pictured), a DVD in FBI style labeling and a very authentic looking FBI evidence bag. Wow. I thought Fox Mulder would be knocking on my door any second.
Now that's some creative viral marketing. With the officialnessy comes the official website which has some short pleas for help from the family members who seen their kin disappear.
I know what you're saying. You're getting the sinking feeling you've seen this all before.
Yes, the movie feels very Blair Witch Project which is the inevitable conclusion people may come to when they see the trailer or movie for the first time. With the proliferation of SOV/POV movies (see Cloverfield, Rec, Diary of the Dead) that's been invading the horror-sphere of late, I have to admit I'm not a big proponent.
So would a movie that follows the formula be any different?
On January 9th 2009, 5 college students left New York City for a weekend in the country. 48 hours later they vanished without a trace. There were no leads and no evidence...until now.
It’s Miriam’s 21st Birthday. As a birthday gift, Miriam’s aunt Gail lends 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 college buddies Cassy, Mark, Tanya and Leo to join her at the country house for what looks to be the most amazing weekend ever. Of course they all jump at the chance to spend a free weekend in the country, in the middle of nowhere.
Miriam’s friends are totally in the mood for a big time party weekend. They’re also anxious to escape the dark and gloomy concrete jungle known as Manhattan. Miriam, Cassy and Tanya bring the food. Mark brings the beer and Leo, the aspiring filmmaker, brings his new video camera. Leo hopes to produce a short movie by documenting every amazing moment of this weekend getaway. Unfortunately, what Leo ends up capturing on camera is not a weekend of peace and tranquility, but a nightmarish descent into pure terror.
Let's start off with what the formula for shot on video, POV horror films.
1.) The camera "person" films everything
2.) His friends who become part of the video
3.) Something sinister starts to scare them
4.) The film ends with "the final shot" that gets the audience shocked
This is of course how Evil Things starts off as Leo, our camera guy wants to document his vacation with his friends. His friends are of course OK with the fact that he is filming EVERYTHING. Which begs the standard..."Stop filming me!" quotables throughout. There is really no justification for him to film while horror ensues, but he does which makes only sense in this universe.
Leo's hipster friends fall into their hipster stereotypes. That's not to say it's a bad thing. We've got Leo of course our NYU film student gone wild, Miriam, the birthday girl, Cassy, the pseudo leader, her boyfriend Mark the tough guy and the hot Tanya, our sick yet sassy friend.
When I reviewed Cloverfield, I wanted all the hipsters to die. All of them we're terribly annoying. However, in Evil Things I must say, I didn't have this homicidal tendency. Each of the characters, though flawed and prone to panic every 5 seconds, had me actually rooting for them to survive (though we know they all die because of the fact this is FBI evidence).
This is very important in these POV films. If I am not to made to care about this inner circle of friends, boredom sets in. All of them we're not terribly annoying nor were they people I'd actually want to hang out with (except Tanya :-P). The other thing I need to have is some funnies. Blair Witch had some awesome one liners and spread throughout Evil Things we get a few charactery tidbits. Leo caught in a bubble bath and Cassy doing a mom impersonation are quite funny. I only wish there were more of these characterologies. When you have Girl X ,Y and Z screaming all the time, complaining and arguing , it turns out just blah.
Now lets go over the sininster stuff. As the group heads out on vacation, they encounter some oddities on their way there. A mysterious red van impedes their route, then the same van makes an appearance at a gas station then a cameo at a diner they stop at. None of these make you jump out of your seat but they do add some eerie quality to whats soon to come.
As the vacation progresses, a quick hike to the woods turns out to plagiarize the Blair Witch Project to a tee. I was almost thinking we'd get a Heather POV "We're gonna die" monologue with snot coming out of her nose. But alas we get a few quirky noises and lots of arguing.
In the final act, normalcy gets interrupted as a mysterious knock on the door produces a grainy videotape. The group watches it Ring style and sees someone has been videotaping them (from the POV from that van) since they arrived in the country. Filmed while they sleep and while they were lost, it's very well done and we get the scary feeling we're headed to a home invasion movie waiting to happen.
The movie suddenly switches back and forth from Leo's footage to our mysterio footage. Even eerie music is backdropped in. Suffice it to say, we do get our "final shot" as indiciated by the rules of this genre not before we get another 2nd ending that sets up an inevitable sequel.
All in all, I have to say I liked Evil Things. Though it follows the formula you've seen before, it breaks it and makes it different. Whereas the camera would always videotape the supernatural (zombies, a monster, etc.) here we see a grounded in reality (or pseudo reality) footage of wacko hunters.
Evil Things is an entertaining indie horror film that goes back to the basics on what scares us. As Blair Witch taught us, we don't necessarily need to see the sinisterness, we just need to see just enough to get us paranoid. It's forgiveable that Perez used the hand held video cinema technique as he was constrained to the budget he had.
As much as I hate this hand held world we live in, Evil Things works. The whole mock FBI packaging and the fact what we're seeing something SENT to the FBI brings up some good unanswered questions. Perez creates an odd mythos about this snuff like evidence and I dug the fact he went all the way with it.
Here's hoping we get to find out more about these mysterious killer voyeurs and see them dash and scare another group of hapless hipsters.
Wow. None for both. You have to use your imagination!
The "final shot"
The 2nd ending
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
First some fun facts!
-Filmed this year (2009) in January up at the Catskills Mountains in NY
-Shot in 7 days
It's a good first effort from Dominic Perez. This is not the first movie to go all hand held POV but it's definitely one of the better ones. Though I have to say, one question that kept bugging me throughout is the fact that a movie like this could never be used as a commercial for Verizon or Sprint or T-Mobile or AT&T.
Do none of these cell phone carriers have coverage in any place rural???
I mean seriously folks. Nobody could get a signal?
It's just one final gripe on logic from an otherwise great film. Because the most evilest thing you can do to any New Yorker is take away their ability to use their iPhone or Crackberry.
Check out the trailer.
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