Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: The Evil Within

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

The Evil Within [aka The Storyteller]           
Written and directed by Andrew Getty
Supernova, LLC / The Writers Studio Inc. / Vision Films
98 minutes, 2002 / 2017

What would you do if you had large funds and wanted to direct a horror film? Add to that, you’ve written a script that has a mix of some old ideas infused with some unusual visions thanks to a mind riddled by years of a methamphetamine addition? Andrew Getty was in this fairly rare situation and started this project in 2002, which didn’t see an outlet until this year, two years after Getty’s death in 2015 from a mixture of an ulcer-related gastrointestinal hemorrhage, and a toxic level of meth (thanks to Producer Michael Luceri, who saw the project to completion).

Literature, especially during the 19th Century, often had characters whose inner voice was way more sophisticated than the person speaking them. A perfect example is 7-year-old Pip in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, where the youth speaks in grammatically perfect English while everyone else speaks colloquially. I am guessing / assuming / presuming that Getty may have felt a bit like that while under the influence: the ranting of a drug fueled brain while probably feeling like he was making sense, yet not understanding why others could not see what he saw. This story and film would have been a way to express that, and as from what I’ve read from various sources, Getty had a history of bad dreams, the tripwire on which this film lies.

Michael Berryman (L.) and Frederick Koehler (R.)
Dennis (Frederick Koehler) is a man whose inner voice is one of intelligence, keen observation, and fury, while outwardly he is mentally challenged. He is being cared for by his older brother John (Sean Patrick Flannery), who is well-meaning, but lacks patience and sensitivity for Dennis beyond his own needs after caring for him so many years, and not realizing the weight of the PTSD of guilt. Yet he is truly concerned about Dennis and is adamant to take care of him rather than have him go to a facility run by the State. Though his intentions are essentially good, this brings him on the negative side of some people, such as Mildy (Kim Darby!), an overzealous social case worker who wants to yank Dennis out of John’s fraternal grip.

Sean Patrick Flannery
We are introduced to Dennis through his inner voice, as he relates bad dreams he’s had since he was a mere wisp of a boy, mostly involving a demon named Cadaver (Michael Berryman) and a more newly introduced mirror that may reflect evil. Mirrors as a trope for a window for malevolence certainly isn’t new, and was even used as recently as in the 2013 Oculus. Psychologically, it is also a “window” to one’s deep self, and that is what a large part of this film plays on, specifically how much is external and to what level internal.

Often, the viewer sees Dennis having conversations with his image in the glass, his “true” self a mental and physically slow man, and his “reflection” a balanced, intelligent and violent personification of Cadaver, who we also see in the background, or somewhere in a reflection of a reflection as Mirror Dennis has Body Dennis point the new mirror to face one on the wall, giving unlimited and not always duplicated images. This is a theme that runs through the whole film.

As much as this is a horror film, with a demonic creature influencing the living and infirmed, there is also a strong thriller level. Since we see Dennis slipping in and out of the Body and Mirror versions of himself in single camera shots, the audience is left to wonder if Mirror Dennis is all in Body Dennis’ physically damaged mind. Even with some of the weirder, supernatural things that happen, you’re bound to wonder if it’s a dream of Body Dennis, all in his cranium, or is there really something sinister going on in a supernatural plane.

Dina Meyer
Adding to the family tension is John’s girlfriend, Lydia (Dina Meyer), who is left in the dark on John’s refusal to let Dennis go, rather than settling down with her to a life of wedded bliss. And Dennis has a crush on Susan, the cutie at the ice cream store (Brianna Brown, who really knows how to facially go from stunning to creepy in a nice turn), who of course is incredibly out of his league). The three key women in the film have almost no contact with each other, and this would certainly fail the Bechdel Test, but at least the women – even Mildy – come across as caring rather than shrill, albeit heteronormatively stereotypical.

Other than the cast, many of whom have had decent careers both before and/or after the shooting (e.g., Meyer was just off of Starship Troopers, Darby has a long track record, and Brown would go on to be a key player in General Hospital and Devious Minds; even Koehler started out as the kid in the sit-com Kate and Allie), it’s easy to see that a majority of the $X millions that went into this film was used for the SFX. Don’t get me wrong, it looks good enough to be a theatrical release, rather than a direct-to-digital one.

Brianna Brown
The post-Getty’s demise editing alone, by Luceri and Michael Palmerio, is eye-catching, such as when we are introduced to Mildy talking to John; the angle keeps changing as the camera zooms around them. Beyond that, the SFX are pretty creepy, and when there is some gore, it looks sharp.

Speaking of the cast, everyone does really well, beyond what you would expect for a b-film, but that’s not surprising considering the pedigree of actors, right down the line. Pluto… I mean Berryman, who is completely covered in green body paint, looks menacing, but I felt that he was underused, mostly in the background to – err – reflect what the Mirror Dennis actually looks like, or possibly the evil side of Body Dennis’ soul, anyway.

The story of Dennis’ past, which I won’t divulge in a spoiler, kind of gives credence to the anger he would feel and the deep level behind Mirror Dennis’ bitterness. This is a nice touch; again I believe reflecting on the director’s own dabbling experiences. However, there definitely are some holes in the story and certain things left me scratching my head.

Even so, it’s an enjoyable film to watch. It’s a shame Getty never got the chance to do more, and we’ll never see what he could have accomplished. Stay off drugs kids, or this could happen to you!!

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