Aug 13, 2011


As of 2011, remakes are out, and found footage is in. And that's fine with me.

Found footage movies are my jam. 

As previously stated, there are over 30 found footage movies currently in various stages of production. Thanks to recent heavy hitters like Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism, movie studios both major and minor have learned that found footage movies cost very little money to finance, but yield great potential for easy profit. And if filmmakers know what they're doing, they can make the gimmick effective.

Does Dominic Perez, writer/director of Evil Things, know what he is doing?

Basically. (Minor spoilers follow.)

The movie begins and we meet our cast: a group of twenty-somethings on their way to a remote house to celebrate Miriam's birthday. Along the way they run afoul of a strange dark-colored van with tinted windows which seems to have randomly chosen the kids to harass. They routinely "escape" the tyranny of the van, only to periodically cross paths with it later.

Soon the kids make it to the house for some teen hijinks, pop culture references, and fun times had out in the snowy woods. However, the fun soon stops when they hear odd noises out in the woods - and this on top of the fact that they have somehow become turned around and found themselves lost. They eventually find their way home, relieved to be out of harm's way.

Until the phone begins to incessantly ring, and the knocks at the door ring out, and the mysterious package a la Lost Highway ends up on the front porch...

The director has assembled a talented group of actors - almost unheard of when dealing with a young cast and a low budget. The actors are fresh-faced (with a dash of acne), and look like realistic, average kids. They all share a believable rapport on screen and for the most part seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company.

The natural progression of the story allows for the sight of the van to become threatening, but without beating you over the head. Its presence is subtle and tastefully done, and the movie doesn't try to cheat by giving the vehicle a purposely garish appearance. The van itself is quite bland and nondescript - the type of vehicle that could follow you for miles and you would be none the wiser...

The set dressing at the kids' house is actually quite clever, if you noticed one minor detail: throughout the entire house, no curtains or shades adorn the windows - of which there are many. The kids cross from room to room with blackness just beyond the many windows. Later on in the film, when shit hits the fan, this detail truly helps to add unease to the mix. The kids literally have nowhere to go without being easily visible from outside the house - they are like fish stuck in a tank, parading themselves around for their attacker who sits outside in the idling van. (See also: CONS.)

"Cassy's" impression of "Leo's" Brooklyn-accented mother kinda made me fall in love with her a little bit. I was literally grinning from ear-to-ear during this scene. Just sayin'.

The movie definitely gets points for exploring a seldom utilized sub-genre: the slasher film. Nine times out of ten today, when a found footage movie is announced, it is about ghosts, or zombies, or aliens, or other not-quite-so realistic villains. Besides for The Last Horror Movie, Man Bites Dog, and the dreadful The Last Broadcast, it's simply an under-explored sub-genre, and I'm glad Perez chose it for his film.

The scene where "Mark" follows the chirping of his WalkieTalkie into another room was very well executed. I'll leave it at that.

Much like Jamie Kennedy explains in Scream - in the iconic scene that perfectly summed up the point of that movie - there are certain rules one must abide by to successfully create a found footage movie:

1.) Do not add music to your found footage movie. This is only acceptable in situations where your movie contains both the "found" footage and sit-down interviews reflecting on it (see: Lake Mungo, The Tunnel ). Otherwise, this is a cheap trick, and alludes to the notion that the filmmaker does not have enough faith in his movie to be scary without it. Yes, you can hire a composer to write you the most unnerving film score in history, but there will always be one thing scarier than creepy violins or a sustained piano key: complete silence. (Note: To be fair, this may or may not be a point of contention where Evil Things is concerned, as we find out at the end of the film that the footage we have been watching has been "prepared" for us by our unseen antagonist.)

2.) When your camera operator is also a member of the cast, his presence has to feel organic. He cannot feel like a cameraman - he must feel like a character undergoing the same conflicts as his fellow cast members. (SPOILER: During the scene where the kids discover that the videotape left on their porch actually contained footage - shot by their stalker - of the house's exterior, interior, and even of the kids sleeping, what could have been the most effective scene in the movie was ruined by the cameraman making sure to capture the horrified reactions of the cast. Put yourself in that situation: you are trapped in a house in the middle of nowhere, and you are seeing footage of YOU sleeping, taken by someone who intends to do you harm. Do you stare, transfixed at the television, your camera slightly off kilter, or do you focus more on your friends' reactions, being sure to cut from face to face to face?)

3.) Do not choreograph the camerawork in conjunction with the script. A character's dialogue should be impulsive and natural. There were far too many scenes in the film in which the camera whipped over to a focus on a specific character well before they started talking, as if the camera operator were anticipating this speaking part. If the gimmick behind found footage is for your events to feel as realistic as possible, filmmakers must take this into account.

Despite the fact that the movie's running time was barely 80 minutes, there are too many padding scenes. The drive to the house takes too long, and even the most monotonous scenes - such as the kids sitting around eating dinner and barely speaking - needed not be included (nor would ever realistically be filmed by our camera operator/character). It's always better to have a shorter and tighter film (example: [REC], with a running time of 78 minutes and not an ounce of fat in the film).
The kids tend to overreact to certain events in the film, as if already aware they are in a horror film. By the van's second appearance, the kids show genuine fear, whereas in reality, most people would pass it off as a minor annoyance. Same goes for when they become lost in the woods - panic seems to set in  bit too prematurely.

Earlier I mentioned the lack of curtains, and yes, it was effective in increasing the tension during the film's finale. But, on the flip-side...who doesn't hang curtains or shades in their windows, especially in a house which was clearly otherwise cared for by its owners? Sure, it's a minor quibble, but one line of dialogue would have made this a bit more palatable: "Sorry none of the windows have curtains - we just finished painting." Or, you know...something else.

The climax of the film felt rushed, which was a shame, given the amount of action taking place. I was hoping the film would build to unbearable levels of tension, but instead the movie seemed to go out with more of a whimper than a bang. (And the last shot inside the house owes quite a bit to the finale of The Silence of the Lambs .)

The end of the film introduces an interesting revelation - the unseen, van-driving stalker sets his sights on a new set of kids: a film crew wandering around Central Park. What is it about the presence of the camera that attracts our unseen antagonist? We've learned he likes to shoot his own raw footage, but what is Perez insinuating by showing us the stalker's attraction to video? That's a question you'll be wondering about as the credits roll.

Despite the cons, Evil Things was still a fun ride, with genuine moments of suspense and shock, and it was an admirable film debut by writer/director Perez. I look forward to seeing what he'll bring us in the future.


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