The Evil Within, 2017.
Directed by Andrew Getty.
Starring Frederick Koehler, Sean Patrick Flanery, Brianna Brown, Michael Berryman, Kim Darby, and Dina Meyer.
A mentally handicapped man is driven to murder by his reflection in an antique mirror.
The Evil Within is a movie that arrives on the scene with a reputation and a lot of baggage, thanks mainly to its creative force Andrew Getty beginning production on it in 2002, taking six years to shoot it and a further seven to edit it to his liking before his untimely death in 2015. The film was then completed by producer Michael Luceri and a mere 15 years after initial production began the final result is here, so was it worth the wait?
Well, if truth be told it probably wasn’t worth putting any major plans on hold to be able to watch it but The Evil Within is not without merit. The main plot thread is a fascinating one as the film begins with a dream sequence narrated by Dennis (Frederick Koehler – Death Race) who drops lines about dreams being stories that one part of your brain tells another part and it is this thought from Dennis that gives you everything you need to know about him as he tries to tell his older brother and carer John (Sean Patrick Flanery – Saw III) about his nightmares through this filter of innocence. Dennis’ nightmares consist of a demonic presence (played by The Hills Have Eyes star and all-round horror icon Michael Berryman) who keeps appearing to him and tries to control him, brilliantly represented in a scene where Berryman’s character fixes a zip to Dennis’ back, unzips his skin and climbs in. The next day John gives Dennis an antique mirror he has had restored and, after initially rejecting the present, Dennis’ reflection begins to speak back to him, convincing him to start killing those close to him.
Quite deep subject matter once Dennis’ entire tragic story comes to the surface, told by John to his girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer – Saw) because we also get a lot of focus on John’s troubles as he copes caring for Dennis while Lydia wants to get married and have a family of her own, and this is obviously all some sort of catharsis for Andrew Getty, who claimed that the idea for the film came from nightmares he had as a child but also had his own addiction demons to fight in adulthood that play into a lot of what he puts his characters through. With such deep subject matter and an inexperienced filmmaker trying to piece it all together in his own vision you may think that The Evil Within would be all over the place and, sadly, you would be correct as after the strong start featuring Dennis’ inner monologues and some very creepy images of Michael Berryman lurking in the shadows of Dennis’ room it feels like Getty is trying to cram in too much in a short space of time to get the story where it needs to be, and where it really needs to be is in the aftermath of Dennis’ actions as he progresses from killing small animals into murdering people. Thanks to the dialogue-heavy script we don’t get nearly enough violence that the premise warrants and, more importantly, there is not nearly enough Michael Berryman, whose presence is felt throughout the film thanks to those early startling images but is ultimately underused to the point of his appearance feeling nothing more than a cameo.
Also, the special effects used throughout the film are very inconsistent. Some, like the aforementioned scene of Michael Berryman climbing into Frederick Koehler, are executed well – no doubt helped by Michael Berryman basically being a one-man visual effect – but there are stop-motion dream sequences and some just plain awful optical effects that simply don’t work. A casualty of the erratic production no doubt, which also reflects in the acting from most of the cast, although Frederick Koehler’s performance is very notable, not so much for his take on how somebody with Dennis’ illness would talk but for what is essentially three different performances – Dennis, Dennis’ reflection and Dennis’ inner voice, all requiring different styles of delivery and the actor seeming to switch between them all very easily and quite often in the same scene. Yes, some meticulous editing obviously helped a lot of it but Koehler does handle the job with admirable confidence and the concept of what is real and what is in Dennis’ head comes across in a hugely powerful way.
The Evil Within is an interesting movie and one loaded with ambition and potential but the limitations – budgetary and creatively – hamper it from being the work of art that Andrew Getty no doubt envisioned. Obviously the troubled production adds to its mystique, and also accounts for some of its flaws, but as an overall movie-watching experience it isn’t a film that will appeal to the mainstream masses. However, seasoned connoisseurs of sensory nightmare horrors such as Suspiria, The Beyond, or Naked Lunch will likely see past the surreal imagery and appreciate what Getty was aiming for, and that is without examining the obvious subtexts and allegories about mental illness and addiction that weave in and out of the fever dream narrative. For something different The Evil Within does provide intrigue but the entertainment factor is considerably less effective when you consider the whole story behind it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★