The Evil Within Is Actually Quite Good

This film has a really interesting backstory, but don't let that distract you.  This new release, indie horror flick has been getting coverage in all sorts of unusual places, like People Magazine and this weak Guardian review, but that's just because they want to dish about how the first time writer/ director Andrew Getty was an heir to the oil fortune, spent fifteen years working on this film, and died to his drug habit before it was complete (one of the producers finished it up).  I mean, I suppose that's all true and all; but the real story is that The Evil Within (a.k.a. Whiplash and The Storyteller) is actually quite a good, original new horror movie.
And Getty may've been working on this film for fifteen years, but he couldn't have been shooting it for fifteen years.  This isn't the Boyhood of horror; we don't see the actors age a decade and a half through the course of this picture or anything.  Just watching the film on its own, you'd have no idea of its tortured history.

It's also not wildly incoherent, the way some write-ups are making it sound.  Yes, it's a surreal, in some ways Lynchian horror flick that shows us the world through the lead character's unreliable perspective, a la Repulsion.  Plus, a large element of the story is about dreams, putting it a bit more in the vein of Phantasm.  But its narrative still manages to be more straight-forward and clear than either of those films, and pointed criticisms from that Guardian review like, "characters appear and vanish without warning or explanation, long surrealist interludes go nowhere, and the plot constantly veers into tangents that appear to bear little relevance to the rest of the film" are flat out untrue.  I think their critic just wasn't paying attention.
But still, it's far from a perfect film.  It's definitely a mixed bag.  On the one hand, this film is filled with stunning visual imagery and wild practical effects that justify the price of admission alone.  Just quickly catching the trailer online, I had to see this film.  And unlike most horror films, it completely lives up to its trailer.  But the story's also quite compelling, with genuinely smart writing and human undercurrents about a mentally handicapped man who's frustrated by a world that has no patience for him, and what his inner demons ultimately push him to do about it.  That's helped immensely by some terrific acting, particularly by the film's lead: Frederick Koehler, the nerdy exposition guy from all those Death Race remakes.  People talk about James MacAvoy in Split, but that's like hammy popcorn fare compared to where this guy goes.
On the other hand though, this has some drawn-out, clunky scenes that really feel like the awkward work of a first-time filmmaker.  Like I think co-star Sean Patrick Flanery is giving a decent performance overall, but when he starts talking to Dina Meyer (whose performance could use a bit of a jolt) or his psychiatrist, feel free to go out to the kitchen and top up your drinks.  It's like being trapped in a student theater group.  Yeah, you need some of that exposition, but some judicious editing could've turned a stilted, uneven film into juggernaut.  Plus, there are one or two "plot convenience" moments and one jokey, meta line of dialogue in the ice cream shop that's so out of place, I can only imagine the director must've left it in the final film on a dare.

So maybe don't come into this film expecting the greatest horror film since the original Hellraiser; you'll probably be disappointed.  But definitely don't let its total garbage dump of a release strategy put you off seeing it, either.  Yes, it's a mixed bag, but one where the highs are so high that the lows are immaterial.  Yeah, it's a DVD only release, and hardly a packed special edition at that.  But it's absolutely worth owning.  Michael Berryman hasn't had a horror role this cool since The Hills Have Eyes (sorry, Cut and Run).
I was pretty disappointed this film got a DVD-only release, but thinking about it, since it was started back in 2002, maybe there's some issue where some of the effects were only finished in standard def?  But it's just as likely, if not moreso, that Vision Films, the company that finally bought this film out to the world, were just cheap.  Spot-checking their catalog, it seems like most of their films are DVD-only.  Anyway, for a DVD, it looks good.  It's anamorphic, 2.35:1, and not interlaced or otherwise troubled.  It's a bit soft, like standard def tends to be, but considering it's got such a unique history, who knows how much better it could look or not?  Watching the credits, you'll see tons and tons of people listed in basic roles like gaffer, so clearly this film was shot with multiple crews at multiple times.  It very possibly might not have even been all shot with the same kind of camera.  If so, they did a good job of making the film look cohesive and professional.  But it's impossible to know what standards to really hold to this release.  I'll say it's a solid, very respectable DVD release and leave it at that.

They do give you the option of a stereo or 5.1 mix, and they include optional English subtitles.  So calling Vision "cheap" might've been a little harsh.  Also, curiously, this film has Canadian ratings markings on the back, even though I ordered my copy direct from Amazon US.  I guess they just made one disc for both markets.
While I said this disc was no packed special edition (an audio commentary by the producer who completed the film would've been terrific), it does have a few short extras that are noteworthy, at least.  First up are three short, on-camera interviews, all clearly filmed during production.  The best is with Getty himself.  This film, and the story behind it, raise a million questions, and he answers about two.  But a little bit's better then nothing.  The next interview is with Koehler, which is alright, but he mostly just heaps praise on Getty and goes over points we clearly saw in the film.  The final interview is with Brianna Brown and is 75 seconds long, so you can guess how substantive that one gets.

Then there are two deleted scenes.  One is a very short clip of repetitious exposition, but the other is a totally graphic and ambitious dream sequence, which seems crazy that they would've cut from the film.  It's possible that they might've had to lose it to prevent an NC-17, though.  Anyway, there's just that plus the trailer and a couple of bonus trailers that play on start-up.  All told, it's like fifteen minutes or less of content, but I'm glad to have it.
It's very rare for a contemporary horror film to make it into my collection.  So yes, it's imperfect (very imperfect), and you can let those flaws ruin it for you if you're the wrong frame of mind.  But seriously, I don't recommend new release horror like this lightly... I mostly just heavily criticize them [whoo! Five bonus reviews!].  It's also priced to sell as a budget title, so it's low risk.  Give it a shot; I'm glad I did.

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