by Jason Coffman
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Evil Things opens with a title card indicating that what you are about to watch is a tape of evidence in the investigation of five missing college students. If that is the case, then apparently the FBI has decided to add a soundtrack, fade-outs, and footage from multiple cameras to the “home video” depicting the last few hours those students were alive. In short, despite some good ideas, Evil Things refuses to play by the rules of the “found footage” style of horror film, which is too bad since the film’s setup is promising.
Miriam Dearing (Elyssa Mersdorf) is turning 21, and for her birthday is taking four of her best friends to her aunt and uncle’s house in the deep woods. Navigator Leo (Ryan Maslin) just bought a new video camera the day before and insists on constantly filming to document the whole weekend. In the back seat are carsick Tanya (Torrey Weiss) and couple Cassy (Laurel Casillo) and Mark (Morgan Hooper). They leave New York and head north into a snowstorm, and on a dangerous road a big van passes them and then slows down and nearly causes Miriam to crash.
The van seems to follow them around for a while until Mark finally goes to confront the driver when he appears at a diner where the friends are eating. After that, the van disappears and they make their way to the house in the woods, where they begin their birthday party in earnest. However all is not as calm as it appears so far from civilization, and soon the friends find themselves in a life-or-death struggle against someone— or something— with evil intentions.
The first hour of Evil Things is basically just like watching an hour of someone’s home videos of a weekend trip— a lot of shots out the windshield and windows of the car, the camera sticking in the face of people in the car, and many short shots abruptly running into other shots where someone has hit the RECORD button, stopped, and resumed later. Leo, the guy with the camera, supposedly wants to be a filmmaker, but still shoots everything like a teenager who has no idea what he’s doing. And, in typical “found footage” style, he doesn’t bother to put the camera down even when it’s clear that he and his friends are in mortal danger. This fact is even more frustrating given the fact that his camera is HUGE. He’s not shooting with a little digital home movie camcorder, he’s shooting with a pretty big digital movie camera with a big light attached to it!
Aside from the fact that watching someone else’s home movies is almost always really dull, the establishing of the characters and their relationships is done fairly well. The actors are all actually pretty good, and they look like real college kids. Their interactions with each other seem easy and natural, which is nice, but too much time is spent setting them up for the last act. Especially given that we know how it ends, thanks to the opening title card that explains they are all missing. The illusion that Evil Things is “actual footage” from Leo’s camera is never really established after an opening shot of some television static in a dark room that fades into Leo prepping for the trip, and later in the film there is footage from another camcorder cut in. While the actors do a good job of creating their characters, the form and structure of the film constantly undermine the idea that any of this is “real.”
Despite these problems, Evil Things does manage a few moments of tension, although its best moment is lifted wholesale from a classic film (and is given away by the DVD cover). Hopefully its young cast manages to go on to do more from here, as the scenes where they are having the birthday party indicate they can do more than just scream and cry, although that’s all they’re really required to do during the last section of the film. The trailer for the film not only includes the film’s best bits, but it’s actually considerably more interesting to watch, leading to the conclusion that a faux-documentary style (like the excellent, still unreleased The Poughkeepsie Tapes) would have been a more effective take on this material.
Inception Media Group released Evil Things on DVD on 9 August 2011. Special features include the film’s trailer, a short companion piece called “Stalking 101,” and “Friends and Family” footage.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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