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EVIL THINGS… DARK SIDE reviews another “found footage” horror film.

Posted on May 20th, 2009
Posted on May 20th, 2009


With “found footage” horror films finally falling out of favor with fans, I’m amazed at the frequency in which indie filmmakers are still firing them out (that alliteration was accidental, I swear).

They range from the sublime (“The Last Horror Movie“) to the nice-try-but-no-cigar (Albert Pyun’s “Infection”) to downright miserable (“Bryan Loves You,” “Five Across the Eyes,” “The Zombie Diaries,” etc…).

While “Evil Things” does not fall headfirst into the downright miserable category, it adds nothing new to the subgenre. I understand what auteur Dominic Perez was attempting, but this film feels like a no-budget project thrown together at the last minute. Despite how the film feels, I can also tell it was elaborately choreographed, if not thoughtfully executed.

An FBI notice lets us know that we are watching recorded evidence that pertains to a case involving a disappearance.  The story involves five (college?) friends who disappeared in the Catskills in New York during a birthday weekend getaway…  and this is the video they took while on that trip.   Early on, the situation telegraphs menace when the friends immediately road-rage and scream at a van that stops in the middle of a snow-covered mountain road, blocking their path.  Big surprise when the van starts following an honking at them, bringing the girls (and guys) on the verge of frightened tears.  My immediate assessment of these people is that I hate them and they deserved it for being immature douches.  The girls whine/scream and the guys seem to have no survival instincts.  After a few more scenes like that where they freak out every time they see a van, I’m looking forward to seeing them get it…  but they are a long way from their eventual ends. 

They eventually make it to the isolated house in the woods, jumping and screaming at every little sound…  a misguided attempt to keep the tension up.  A couple of red herrings also crop up, the first in the form of “Aunt Gail” who bursts in unexpectedly to scare the kids, then turn on the power for them.  The second comes the next day when one of the guys leads them all on a wild goose chase in the woods looking for a cave with ancient Indian drawings inside.  Once the group gets lost, they turn on each other, bicker and overact more egregiously than the “Blair Witch” cast (is it too much to ask for one or two strong protagonists?).  An unearthly animal noise spooks them and they run until they stumble like Hansel and Gretel back to the house.  Inside, they let their guard down again, until a knock on the door alerts them to a videotape left on the doorstep. 

Directly inspired by David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” the tape shows someone creeping through the house and videotaping the friends while they sleep.  They freak.  Lights go off, they freak some more.  Game on. 

It’s a shame the film takes so long to get to the real threat after all the false histrionics of the previous scenes.  The first real scare of the film is perfectly timed and easily the best of the film, but the rest of it goes by too fast.  It’s confusing what exactly happens to each of the individuals, and while I like it when filmmakers leave certain aspects of horror to my imagination, we really don’t get any hints either, making the experience frustrating. 

Obviously the filmmaker borrowed his scenes liberally from similar POV films.  Here are a sequence of events from those other movies that illustrates how this film is paced (highlight to read!):

**BEWARE SPOILERS!!!**

1. Starts off like “Cloverfield” with a couple cavorting in their swank, New York apartment
2. Transitions to a “Blair Witch” type road trip with a lot of witty banter between friends
3. Becomes like the “Welcome to the Jungle” where the friends think someone is stalking and watching them
4. Then an episode of “World’s Scariest Places” until Aunt Gail arrives at the house
5. More “Cloverfield” cavorting
6. “Blair Witch” in the woods
7. “When a Stranger Calls”
8. “Lost Highway” videotape scene
9. “St. Francisville Experiment” haunted house scene
10. Buffalo Bill stalking his victims nightvision-style like in “Silence of the Lambs”
11. “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” killer enjoying his home movies

Although derivative, one of the creepiest parts appears at the end where the killer with the night vision camera sneaks through the house, looking under beds for hiding survivors.  It gave me the willies because it worked, making me wish there was more of this in the film. 

**END SPOILERS**

I mentioned “elaborate” choreography before and here’s how I could tell…  If you look closely, you can see actors waiting impatiently for specific cues to prompt them to act or talk.  Certain dramatic beats seemed conveniently placed to elicit a staged reaction from the actors.  Although this is how I would’ve accomplished the same task (not that I could’ve done any better), here it seemed so glaringly phony it took me out of the story.

The acting was atrocious.  Even though movies like this aren’t easy to pull off acting-wise, the actors should’ve developed their characters’ responses to stress and danger with more care and originality.  A “realistic” approach isn’t enough, you need to sell the illusion of reality while creating something original and interesting.  Screaming at every little disturbance, sobbing like a baby when you’re not sure what’s going on, freaking out over nothing and cursing because you have nothing of value to add to the interaction… 

None of this works.  Despite all that, I think actress Laurel Casillo makes a decent scream queen.  Her soul-piercing shrieks put me on edge and she showed some capable acting talent during the lighter scenes (but ONLY during the lighter scenes).  She rightfully gets the money shot at the end. 

A couple of things I love about “Evil Things” is its excellent marketing to get someone interested in viewing the movie:  1.  The movie website which seems more like a milk carton-like plea from family members to find their missing loved ones.  2.  The package in which the screener copy arrived.  I opened it at panicked for 2 seconds when I saw the F.B.I. letterhead.  Perez did a great job recreating official Fed documents and evidence baggies which contain the “confidential” copy of the video.

Too bad the film itself doesn’t sell the illusion.  I suppose we are to surmise the killer did the editing and added the creepy music to the film before sending it to the authorities, but it seriously detracted from the experience. 

I can’t in good conscience recommend “Evil Things” (a title misnomer as the only “things” [plural] are the victims).  It never gets close to reaching the heights of superior filmmaking like “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” which I consider the best of this subgenre.  However, if you’re like me and have a weak spot for “found footage” and point of view films, here’s another one for you.  Let’s put it in the close-but-no-cigar category. 

Trailer below…


I take pictures real good.

-Dark Side

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