Monday, July 18, 2011

DVD Review: EVIL THINGS (2009)


Label: Inception Media Group
Release Date: August 9th 2011
Rating: R
Duration: 86 mins
Video: 1.78:1 Widescreen 16x9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Director: Dominic Perez
Cast: Leanne Melissa Bishop, Gail Cadden, Laurel Casillo
Tagline: If You Think You’re Alone … Think Again!

Synopsis: Five college friends plan a road trip to celebrate Miriam’s 21st birthday during a snowy weekend out of the city at a beautiful, remotely located country home. In the mood to party, Cassy, Mark, Tanya and Leo bring the beer, as well as aspiring filmmaker Leo’s new video camera. But excitement soon turns to panic and 48 hours later, they’ve all vanished, leaving investigators without a single clue … until now. What Leo captured on video is no tranquil getaway but a sinister and nightmarish descent into terror.

Film: There's definitely no shortage of "found" or "lost footage" films in the market these days, and here's yet another one for the collection. When done right it can be scary shit indeed. One needs only to check out THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, [REC.] and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY to see it's success, it seems tailor made for young aspiring filmmakers to make their mark on the cheap. That said, when it's done poorly, like say THE FOURTH KIND, it can be disastrously, laughably bad, so let's see how's EVIL THINGS stacks up.

When five friends from New York City head out to a a relatives summer home in the rural Catskills area to celebrate their friend Miriam's (Elyssa Mersdorf) 21st birthday things get weird right from the start. En route they encounter a van that tailgates them, honks the horn, flashes high beams, passes them and then slams on the breaks nearly causing an accident. Eventually the van speeds off but it later appears at a gas station and then later still at a restaurant the group stops off at. One of the group, Mark (Morgan Hooper), attempt to interact with the unseen driver outside the eatery but he again speeds off. The group continue onto their destination, shaken, but they arrive safely and settle in for some drinks and birthday party shenanigans.

The next day they go for a hike in the woods and like city folk do, they find themselves hopelessly lost, which is strange to me, the ground is covered in snow, why they couldn't follow their footprints back to the house kind of irked me. It just seemed to be an opportunity for some BLAIR WITCH styled lost-in-the-woods shenanigans for no real reason with no payoff. They start playing the blame game, tempers flare, nerves begin to fray and not helping matters are some strange noises that freak everyone out. It's well past nightfall when they make their way back to the house, they're cold, scared, and a bit angry with each other but otherwise unharmed. That night while drinking and joking, putting the woodland trek behind them,  they receive a series of hang-up phone calls and then there's a knock at the door, but when they answer it there is no one there, only a package on the doorstep. Inside is a VHS cassette, they're curiosity peaked they slip it in the VCR and it becomes immediately apparent that not only had the driver of the van been videotaping them en route but has apparently been outside the house taping them the entire time. Worse still, he's gained entrance to the house and has recorded them in their sleep, just a few inches from them in the dark.

From here the shit hits the fan when the power goes out and the land line goes dead, the film's slow start begins to payoff as things spiral quickly out of control. It's chaos, everyone is running frantic in the dark, barricading themselves as the killer stalks them leading to the film's grim conclusion. Not a perfect film but here's what I liked about it; the winter setting, there are just not enough snowbound horror films. The kids are a fun bunch, a bit snotty but I actually liked 'em and the dialogue sounded authentic, not that I'm super-keen on what 20-somethings New Yorkers are espousing these days, but it's eye rolling. Towards the end there's a shift in POV from the Leo's camera to the killer's night vision enabled gear with a finale that reminded me a bit of Agent Starling stumbling blindly through the dark of Buffalo Bill's basement from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. There's also a weird bit I liked at the end when we see the killer's editing bay as he assembles the footage together, so maybe he's the one who added the filmscore. Honestly, there's not a lot I didn't care for, other than it's a bit derivative and there's absolutely no gore, this is a bloodless film. 

It's weird with found footage films, in reality it would be a bit dull wouldn't it? Watching someones home videos, nothing much interesting would happen until the end, right, if at all? By it's nature it would be an incomplete, hard to follow narrative, and in all likelihood no one is hanging onto that damn camera for the duration of what transpires, that would never happen but you just kinda have to go just with it. With horror films in general there's the need to get-rid of the phones early on but with found footage films you have to traverse that and then make us believe that someones dumb enough to film their own demise with a camera with a never-ending battery life. In this instance it's Leo (Ryan Masily) a wanna-be filmmaker intent on capturing the entire trip on film and the phones (of course) can't get a reliable signal, where's the "can you hear me now?" guy when you need him, right?

Not a film that screams originality but a good low-budget riff on a somewhat tired style of filmmaking. As a debut film I think Domonic Perez has a decent found footage film on his hands and I'd like to see what he could do with a more traditional narrative film. Also, a good cast of actors anchored by the stand-out performance from final girl Laurel Casillo as Cassy, she could be one to watch. Perhaps I could just relate to her because she's the spitting image of a woman named Misha from my work, it's seriously uncanny. Overall, a good watch but not one with a ton of rewatch value for me.

DVD: The screener from Inception Media Group is 16x9 enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen with 2.0 stereo audio. The screener is not representative of the final DVD as it's interlaced with a watermark and the sell sheet indicates a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix, so I would expect better of the final disc. The screener also contained a trailer for the film.

Verdict: EVIL THINGS is not redefining the found footage genre but it's a good riff on it with some nice cabin-in-the-woods elements and it's fair share of genuinely tense and creepy moments. It's not a stand-out stunner but definitely worth a rental. 2.5 outta 5