The Evil Within
Directed by Andrew Getty
By Connor Armenti
Assessing The Evil Within from a critical standpoint the way one might assess most other films, blockbuster, indie or otherwise, may put it at somewhat of a disadvantage. It’s like that kid in school whose assignment isn’t exactly up to scratch but the teacher needs to take into account the kid’s personal life and how that might affect his/her work. The Evil Within is a passion project by millionaire film buff Andrew Getty, who started production on the project in 2002. Getty financed the entire thing, set up homemade camera rigs and personalised set designs, most of which in his own home. The film would eventually kill him in 2015, having been found dead in his makeshift studio, leaving the film to be completed by a producer and released this year. Many of the film’s bizarre and nightmarish scenarios are said to be based off of Getty’s own childhood nightmares, images he claimed must have come from another source. If this were indeed the case, Getty had a lot of thanks owed to this other mind.
The film’s premise revolves around a disabled young man Dennis (a notoriously cherubic Frederick Koehler) and his plight of horrific hallucinations that eventually drive him to murder. He is in the care of his brother John, who too faces a dilemma, this one of responsibility vs. self-fulfilment. The film has an interesting and almost pantomime style about it, at least in the first half. The lavish, carnival-esque set design and wacky camera angles and shots harken muchly to the work of Terry Gilliam or Neil Gaiman, but infused with the existential and absurdist horror of the short stories of Thomas Ligotti, which may be further enforced with the presence of unsettling mannequins and eye-blink changes in situational space/time. This eccentricism begins to fade towards the latter half bringing about quite a dragging sense but re-establishes itself for a jawbreaker of a final act. Despite a lack of experience or guide, it can’t be denied that Getty had quite the vision.
Dennis’ primary otherworldly antagonist is an unnamed Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame, whose signature bulbous cranium and low-hanging gargoyle brow are welcome features into any opposing dimension. The acting in this film is surprisingly not all that bad, and while the cast is minimal I found a fairly decent chemistry among them. Koehler’s go at a disabled person, while not all that flattering, is convincing enough in execution. The real contrast lies, however, in Dennis opening monologue, where his monosyllabic stammerings in the waking world are exchanged for a velvet-smooth prose that would make H.P. Lovecraft go “Damn!” Getty’s writing of Dennis is surprisingly candid, in that the character is blatant in his insecurities pertaining to his intelligence, something he once had in spades until a tragic childhood accident. Dennis’ evil mirror-self, who conspires him into his murderous escapades, preys on this, convincing him that he can prove he can’t be tricked by the masses into believing murder is wrong. The film could have seized such an opportunity to create a contrasting dialogue between Dennis’ waking-world impairments and his narrating inner-monologue, but unfortunately that too died out after the opening scene. This would have added to the theme of self-determination to prove that physically impaired people can be just as intelligent as their able-bodied peers. Alas, this theme goes considerably underdeveloped.
Where the film truly shines is in its hallucinatory visions and the execution of special effects. It uses no CGI and all effects are practical, and they are sparing just enough to keep things unsettling and still engaging rather than an all-out assault on the trickery of cinema, something severely lacking in recent horror but thankfully making a slow but sure comeback in contemporary indie efforts. Quite an unnerving but excellently executed scene in the film involves the mirrormaster unzipping Dennis from the back and filling in the hollow skin, resealing and wandering around the bedroom. Getty knew just the right balance for nuance in an otherwise not-so-nuanced genre, not overdoing it but impressing with what he has given. Many moments of visual magic in this flick had me breathing out the occasional “Wooow…” The ending is particularly chilling in its resolve (or lack thereof), and really drives home that nihilistic despair. That is the basis of what defines whether or not Id recommend this film; if you love your depictions of the inner psyche and how it can be manipulated to make you feel powerless. isolated and terrified, go for this beauty.
Odds are you haven’t heard of this film, simply because how can you market a film where most of everything was done by one man, a man who died before the thing was even complete? However, with the right marketing this film could find an enjoyable success. It’s just a shame the only person who’d get any enjoyment out of the success is now dead.