(A.k.a. WHIPLASH; THE STORYTELLER)
Dennis (Frederick Koehler) is a mentally challenged man who lives under the care of his older brother John (Sean Patrick Flanery). John aspires to have Dennis placed in a private hospital, which in turn would free him to marry girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer) and start a family.
However, an incident from their youth which caused the once-promising Dennis's resultant condition, ensures that John harbours just enough secret guilt to keep him loyal to his younger brother ... at least, until he can afford to have him placed in the best care home possible.
To this end, John rejects advice from the likes of social worker Mildy (Kim Darby), psychiatrist Preston (Francis Guinan) and even Lydia, who all insist the local hospice would suffice. Nope, John wants something better for Dennis.
When he happens across a vault of antique curios, John sees an opportunity to clean the stuff up and sell it on at a huge profit. Which, of course, will move him one step closer to realising his ambitions with Dennis and Lydia.
Alas, John makes the unwise decision of storing the antiques in Dennis's room. Little brother is furious, especially with the full-length mirror which is now the unsightly centre-piece of his bedroom. Dennis's umbrage is hardly surprising, seeing as though he's been plagued lately by vivid nightmares in which said mirror figured prominently.
Still, John wins Dennis round by promising to shift the furniture in a couple of days' time. In the meantime, Dennis discovers something rather startling: his reflection starts conversing with him through the mirror...
Dennis's reflection is a darker persona offset against his affable lightness. His reflection stands upright, as opposed to Dennis's hunched disposition, and speaks clearly in contrast to Dennis's meek stammer. The reflection offers reassurance at first, but soon becomes domineering - turning Dennis's thoughts against those closest to him.
Before long, the reflection has convinced Dennis to kill a neighbour's pet and bring it home to practice taxidermy on. Why? Because such an act, we're told, will help Dennis "get better" and keep his nightmares - in which he's repeatedly hounded by a grey cadaver (Michael Berryman) - at bay.
Obliging to this macabre request, Dennis does feel unusually empowered for a short while. But when the nightmares return and his waking hours become plagued by fears of what John and Lydia have planned for him, the reflection returns with greater demands ...
How far will Dennis's psychosis take him into the realms of bloody murder? What's he working on in the family home's basement, and why is there a rotten smell emanating from down there? And, ultimately, are those nearest to him going to make it to the end of the film alive?
THE EVIL WITHIN's troubled production is well-documented. For the uninitiated, here's a quick summary: writer-director Andrew Getty - an heir to the Getty Oil empire - began filming in 2002. The shoot was an on-off affair, blighted by funding issues, casting disputes, crew changes galore (just check out the number of production assistants, grips, best boys etc credited during the end titles) and so on. Filming eventually concluded in 2008. But then Getty, addicted to methamphetamines by this point, obsessed over editing his raw material together, to the point that the film remained incomplete when his addiction contributed towards his death in 2015 (intestinal bleeding due to a suspected ulcer was cited as the cause of death). Producer Michael Luceri completed the editing, finally putting the film in a position to the see light of day in 2017.
And what an odd film it is.
Utilising his own mansion home as the main location, Getty shot on 35mm with an eventual overall budget of $4 million. He also had an active hand in creating many of the film's special effects, along with building his own unique camera rigs and purpose-built sets. The look of the film is certainly a striking, highly stylised one: from the skewed camera angles, through the ambient dim lighting to the carefully detailed set design, Getty creates a world of ominous goings-on lurking in darkened corners which successfully evokes paranoia and claustrophobia from the off.
The nightmare sequences are vividly brought to life, affording Getty ample opportunity to show off his surrealist bent. Mirrors within mirrors; giant spiders sucking the lifeblood from their victims; rooms suddenly transforming into glass cells ... Dennis's mind is a fucked-up place to visit, and Getty puts us there with no regard for restraint or subtlety.
There's nothing subtle about Koehler's performance either. Shy and bumbling as the affable Dennis, his alter-ego is a head-down, eyes-up force of cool, calculated manipulation. He's given some priceless dialogue to spit out at his weak shadow-owner too. "She wouldn't fuck you with someone else's pussy" he taunts Dennis, when addressing a local ice cream girl he has the hots for (Brianna Brown), "she wouldn't fuck a retard. How disgusting. But a serial killer? How exciting".
Flanery and Meyer have a lot of expositional scenes which serve to provide a flimsy semblance of narrative between Koehler's basement-based scenery chewing. In stark contrast to the meticulously crafted, surreal housebound set-piece scenes, these exterior moments are shot without flair or imagination, and are further blighted by the handsome actors displaying all the skill and charisma of a pair of daytime soap characters.
Tim Bagley turns up in a cameo role later into proceedings, proffering an absurdly rubbish performance as one of John's old pals.
Often violent but only sporadically gory, THE EVIL WITHIN benefits from a mix of both practical and digital FX work, the majority of which is extremely competent. The frankly absurd finale is so over-the-top that it's hard to resist, providing some marvellous creature creations the likes of which Screaming Mad George would've been proud to have produced.
Quite what the film's message is, I don't know. That mentally handicapped people are seething psychopaths on the inside? Surely not. Though when you're watching a person with special needs abducting a child with the intent of murdering them, you do have to question Getty's intentions. Still, the fact that none of this triggers any objection in the viewer is less a testament to the skills of the director or his cast, and more due to the fact that the film is such a broad, theatrical, stylised slice of horror cinema that it can't offend.
To call THE EVIL WITHIN a mishmash of TWISTED NERVE and IDENTITY, with splashes of PHANTASM and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET strewn throughout, is lazy. But ... fuck ... I don't quite know how else to describe it. It's uneven, certainly, and there are times when it's downright laughable. But on the whole, its dreamlike atmosphere, surreal visuals and bizarre performances conspire to create something rather unique.
THE EVIL WITHIN gets its UK release courtesy of Screenbound Pictures, on both DVD and blu-ray. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray for review purposes.
The film is presented uncut and in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The 16x9 picture, offered as a nicely sized MPEG4-AVC file, benefits from full 1080p resolution and looks great. Natural filmic textures and depth are felt throughout, while colours are consistently strong and natural-looking. Images are crisp, blacks are unerringly solid and flesh-tones are accurate at all times.
English audio is provided in options of both stereo and 5.1 surround. Either way you go, what's on offer is highly reliable. The film's sound design is a busy, imaginative one; it's represented well here with even balance and clean, loud playback where needed.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene selection menu allows access to the film via 8 chapters.
Disappointingly, there are no bonus features on the disc. A "Making Of" would've made for a great watch, I'm sure.
THE EVIL WITHIN is an interesting, deceptively complex film with a lot of intriguing elements running throughout it. It's not without its flaws by any stretch, but it is worth seeing if only because there's nothing else quite like it.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Screenbound Pictures|