Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Evil Things

Evil Things 

Genre films can have a reputation for being formulaic, recycling old plots that are carbon copies of a defining predecessor. So it all comes down to the quality of the execution to distinguish one from the other, whether it’s the technical prowess, the acting, an interesting self-referential twist or solid story telling. Either way you can be pretty sure that James Bond is going to escape from the tank of carnivorous laser guided newts, Jason Statham is definitely going to solve his problems with face punching and everyone who isn't the girl with the troubled past who is charmingly insecure and hot but not slutty, is going to die.

Evil Things borrows from classic thriller and horror films left right and centre. The central narrative has been traced directly from ‘Slasher Film Writing For Dummies’ – a group of friends head to an empty house in the woods and would you bloody well believe it, things don’t go exactly as planned when the group are taunted by a mystery assailant. Jason Voorhees’ weird little ears must be burning right now.

Some guys are just dicks!

There is little more to talk about in the way of actual plot; they hang out in the house, they get lost in the woods at one point and then people start getting disposed of... well kind of. So far as the execution goes is there anything here to lift it above the usual copy-and-paste horror template? Well, no. Not really. The film is bookended by a text card stating that this video tape is evidence in a missing persons case, so we are instantly dropped into the found-footage ‘this is real’ cliché. Things stay recognisable from there, as the annoying twat with a camera who won’t stop filming everyone repeatedly tells them how much they will enjoy having the whole trip on tape, and that they will look back on it one day (and all that bollocks). It answers the age old “why are they still filming this” found footage question with “because that guy is a dick”. To be honest they all seem like dicks really, well acted dicks granted. At times it did feel like just watching someones home video as they all spoke over each other, but that doesn’t combat the fact that there is something inherently annoying about the whole group. They have an air of clean cut dullness about them, as if they have just come straight from theatre school or a youth church group meeting.
^What that guy said^
Although I hadn’t seen Stephen Spielberg’s Duel before I watched this film, I knew what the story was and the opening twenty minutes or so of Evil Things reminded me of what I’d heard. It made me think about it so much that I decided to watch Duel for the first time as soon as Evil Things had finished. It was then that I realised the first twenty minutes of both films are almost EXACTLY the same. Replace the truck in Duel for a van, swap desert for snow and you have an almost move-for-move remake. The battling for position on the road followed by seeing each other again at a petrol station before finally stopping at a café and getting the guts up to confront the mystery diver. There is such a thing as homage but this was just a straight up rip-off.
The Blair Witch project
So from here on the ripping-off just continues. The next notable instance comes after the clichéd evening of settling into the house and getting drunk and, as much as I hate to mention it during a found-footage review, is of The Blair Witch Project. The Blair Witch Project but with a plot hole more gaping than*insert vagina joke here*. I am usually one for forgiving plot holes if they carry a narrative or build tension but when a group of people get lost alone, in the woods, in the snow, when it isn’t actually snowing it became impossible to ignore the fact that all they had to do was turn around, look at the floor and notice all those weird human foot shape imprints on the ground. At one point the camera even swings across the floor and you can see their footprints in shot. In the time they have been wandering it has gone from what seemed to be dawn to night time and they are ripping the shit out of each other for getting lost and didn’t once think of tracing their footprints back home. There are moments here that are again pretty much directly taken from The Blair Witch but with a few more people. So ok, this is a spooky lost in the woods tale, there are some weird inhuman noises coming from something stalking them, and they are getting scared and running themselves deeper and deeper into trouble. The Blair Witch in the snow could be interesting I guess, doesn’t have much to do with the van earlier from what I can tell, unless the van was driven by a ghost/monster/tree thing but I’ll go with it… Oh they’re home now. They just happened to wander in the right direction. Ok, so that’s the second film Evil Things has wrapped up so far. What’s next?
Well what’s next is Michael Haneke’s Caché. They have a video tape land on their front door, start to watch it and discover it is footage of themselves, them driving to the house, them drinking when they get there, them asleep at night, them eating cake, them drinking some more. This scene goes on for quite some time and as well as suffering from some serious over acting it also suffers from being boring and losing sight of its original concept. As mentioned earlier this film is bookended by a  police evidence card, suggesting we are watching unedited, unaltered footage as it was found by the police (even though the card says there is “no evidence and no leads” when we have a tape with footage of the van and crimes and locations, seems like pretty good evidence to me). This goes out the window first when non diegetic ‘music’ is added as they watch the video of themselves and then it is just thrown on the floor and pissed upon as we cut to view from the stalkers camera.

That seems to sum up the problem with the film as a whole. It has no set concept or idea; it seems to flick pointlessly from one happening to another. Ambiguity is fine, not everything has to be spelled out, but that only works when there are ideas sewn within the narrative that allow the audiences imaginations to run their own course. That can be the most fun thing about film. Here though they are in a huge modern looking house with no idea of history or any dark reason for the group being targeted. Sometimes it seems supernatural, doors close without anyone being seen (because we’ve never seen that before) there is a noise that is supposed to sound inhuman that follows them, we never see the attacker. Yet then again ‘it’ drives a van and uses a video camera. The group run from the attacker to the front door to see a torch held at the window, so are there more than one of them or is it some spooky entity who can be in two places at once or is it just super quick? These questions don't need answering but also don't feel like they were never the intention for them to be asked.
The ending is the bastard son of Scream, Friday the Thirteenth and Paranormal Activity. With a few cast members left to account for, the film makes a move that is both a great idea and a terrible one in at the same time. It stops. With no justification or need to it just ends randomly. It feels like the film makers just ran out of ideas and decided, “Yeah fuck it. That’ll do, it’ll seem mysterious or something, I don’t know. We've already got their money! I've had a great idea for a hotel based ghost story...The Sparkling!” It ends as soon as it seems like something interesting may actually be about to happen. Evil Things gives you nothing then and the last moment just bails out of having to have any original ideas. I say it’s a great idea as well as a terrible one because it would have been good if the film had ended at least half an hour earlier. Instead of actually finishing, we are given an incredibly weak ambiguous explanation as the killer targets another group of teens who are filming themselves. Maybe this is making some pathetic observation about how willing we are to have our lives captured and observed for entertainment or some pseudo intellectual bullshit like that but it is far FAR too little too late.
The credits roll as we are made to watch the whole of the film again from the secondary view of the killers camera which is just as boring as it was the first time around. Evil Things feels like a cheap and lazy attempt to cash in on a genre that is designed for low budget creativity. There is however a shocking lack of imagination throughout.

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