Friday, February 5, 2016

Review: Live-Evil

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Written and directed by Ari Kirchenbaum
Simian Tales
95 minutes, 2015

As if working as a cop in a small college town wasn’t bad enough. As if working as a cop in a small college town on Halloween wasn’t enough. As if working as a cop in a small college town on Halloween and two on the FBI’s most wanted drug dealers list were cuffed in the precinct wasn’t enough. As if… okay, I’ll shorten it… all this wasn’t bad enough, thanks to an ancient relic bought by a rich collector, something wicked this way has come. One of the officers refuses to name it in a running gag, just giving it the descriptor, “Evil.”

Charlene Amoia
Officer Hancock (Buffalo native Charlene Amoia, who gives off a kind of Gina Gershon vibe, was a semi-regular waitstaff character on How I Met Your Mother, among many other credits) gets called to rich dude’s mansion to find a bunch of bodies and a naked woman forming out of ash, eyes aglow, aka the previously said “evil.” Arresting her, aware that something is obviously afoot, Hancock puts her in a cell next to the snarky drug dealers.

These dealers could be a film unto themselves. Young, cocky and fearless, they remind me of long-haired versions of Pharma Dude (you know, the dick who raised the cost of the AIDS drug 5000% - I will not glorify him by printing his name). Referred to as simply Mr. Eleven (Ed Ricker) and Mr. Twelve (the mono-named Carter), they are amusing in tune with their situation and have a strong don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Like other (non-police) characters, there is something off about them, which makes them interesting, even if not likeable. I spent the whole film waiting to see whether they get their comeuppance or not (I’m not telling).

Kind of running the show is Sherriff Pete (Vladimir Kulich, who looks a bit more Norge than Czech, so it makes sense that he played one in 1999’s The 13th Warrior, and The Viking television series). Pete’s a likeable enough guy, but not the sharpest stick in the woods (though heart’s in a good place); it’s actually Hancock who is usually dealing with the pragmatic reality of the moment. She’s been on the force over a decade and she should be running the show, in my opinion.

In an extended cameo role (as all indie films must now produce, it seems) is the Candyman (1992) himself, Tony Todd, as an imbibing pastor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to see him, as he is a class act. Stealing the scenes, however, is a college dean (Tim Ross) who, for those who know academics well, delivers his comic relief lines with just the right amount of red tape and incredulity. He’s hysterical. Also grabbing attention is the tweaking Rosie (Raven Whisnant), in an extremely high-energy, physical performance given with glee.

Then add some risen undead (more on this in a bit), affected by the ash that’s floating around the town that looks like snow, whose intentions are not known for a while, with glowing eyes (which hint towards their… again, I won’t give it away, though I’m sorely tempted to discuss). Everyone keeps calling them zombies, to which Hancock vehemently differs. I understand what she is saying, but I humbly disagree with her for the following reason: in the post-Romero world, risen zombies are flesh eaters out to kill and eat the flesh of the living. If you go back pre-1967, however, zombies meant something different. They were raised from the dead to do a deed or obey a master, not independently and randomly slaughter (I once wrote a blog about it, HERE). So, in current Western culture she is correct, but in the original meaning of the term, she is not. But I’m digressingly nitpicking.

Tony Todd
Breaking the story up into seven chapters are witty title cards, such as “Evil Descending a Staircase,” “Chasing Pete’s Dragon,” and “Kamikaze, Rinse, Repeat.” I’m pointing this out to explain, in part, that this is actually quite a cleverly written work. This is only part of the care given to the thought of this film. Along with the meat and ‘taters shooting (and there is a lot of it) and blood’n’bones (ditto), there is also an ample use of digital effects, from the previously described eye glowing and nearly omnipresent ash floating around, then add in some gunshot wounds, people appearing out of thin air, and other assorted gizmos. But there is also some appliance SFX as well, such as the undead (most of whom look great, by the way), and the “Evil” masks (see the film’s poster, above).

When it comes to being arty, as I’ve said before in other reviews, there is a fine line between being artistic and being opaque, much like poetry or a certain level of fiction. Within that line the viewer gets to see a vision presented by the director that’s above and beyond, and yet the story doesn’t get lost in the adjusting (which is the problem I have with much of the over-produced music since the early ‘80s, but I digress…). Kirchenbaum takes that leap and lands on safe ground, giving this a unique feel, and yet keeps the watcher involved in the story. For example, most of the beginning of the film is in B&W, and then suddenly turns to color 53 minutes in, after the ringing of a ritual bell.

I must say, I enjoyed this immensely. It took me three-quarter through to figure out a key point, and it still kept my interest until after the credits (yes, there’s a bit at the end there). Kirchenbaum doesn’t always take the easy or obvious road here, even though one can see elements of so many other films, such as [REC] (2007), 30 Days of Night (2007; here it’s cops vs. Evil, not vampires), and any one of a million rising dead themes, albeit this time with automatic weapons. The risen dead masks remind me a bit of the aliens in They Live (1988), but again, perhaps I’m assuming too much, because I didn’t care about it as I was having too much fun with the story.  Speaking of which, while I certainly would not necessarily call this a comedy, man it has some funny moments.

From beginning to end, this was an enjoyable film to watch. It never lets up, it’s rarely predictable, and except for a couple of parts that could have used a bit of snipping (e.g., for story pacing, Sherriff Pete takes too long to convince Hancock to get into the police car, even though it’s probably more realistic), and a couple of arguably superfluous characters (the pair of apparently X-Files-inspired FBI agents), it kept me interested all the way through. It’s a good watch.

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