SXSW Film Review – Another Evil
In Carson D. Mell’s first feature film Another Evil, Dan (Steve Zissis), his wife Mary (Jennifer Irwin), and son Jazz (Dax Flame) are staying at their weekend house in the woods when they notice something a little weird. There are minor disturbances in Dan’s painting studio – someone messing with his paintbrushes and knocking over a chair – but the real shocker occurs when Dan and Jazz see a ghost. They bring in laid-back psychic Joey Lee (Dan Bakkedahl), who confirms they do indeed have a ghost, two of them in fact. But the spirits seem nice and he doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about. Dan is not entirely sure he is comfortable sharing a living space with the non-corporeal, so he is easily talked into making an appointment with exorcist Os (Mark Proksch). Os thinks Joey Lee is full of crap and soon convinces Dan there are demons in his house that need to be exorcised immediately. They head out to the cabin for a week to rid the house of its unwanted residents, and all sorts of uncomfortable events ensue, most of which do not involve spiritual entities.
This is a low-budget first feature, and I’ll admit it, I tend to cut these kinds of films some slack. I am rooting for new directors because I want to see what kinds of films they have in them. I get it. Things aren’t going to be as polished, there might be a few holes in the story, and the locations are going to stripped way down. There are a lot of good things here, but there are also some not-so-good stuff, and one thing that really annoyed me – not quite enough to write the picture off, but almost.
Let’s get down with the good first. On IMDb, Another Evil is listed as a horror comedy, and I am here to tell you it is neither scary nor particularly funny. It is a quirky drama that uses its horror and humorous elements to further the plot along, but those two things are not really the focus. It is very low-key, but I kind of enjoyed just hanging out and seeing where things went. It could have used a little more weirdness, but it was just unexpected enough to keep me interested. The core of the movie is the relationship between Dan and Os, and it reads true. Os’ wife has just left him because he has rescued too many cats, and it seems like he just needs to connect with someone. And exorcise things. I know a lot of guys like Os – socially awkward, into some pretty strange shit, and seemingly ready to go over the edge at any moment.
While the relaxed tone of the film works for the most part, it does a disservice in the third act, because things get pretty dark in a way that the rest of the film doesn’t support. When I wrote earlier that the film needed some more weird, I meant that it needed to commit a little more to the darkness that appears later in the third act. Or, it could have gone for the funny or strange. But the film inhabits this middle ground that’s just kind of bland in the end.
I’m going to take a moment now to talk about the juvenile use of female sexuality in this movie and how it made me angry. There are four instances where it is discussed or shown:
1) Os tells a story about having sex with the devil in lady form.
2) Os and Dan hire a stripper.
3) Os uses naked lady playing cards in an exorcism.
4) There is some little weird naked doll also used in an exorcism.
Now, Os doesn’t seem terribly mature, so his sex story can be seen as a form of braggadocio on his part, and I guess that works within the parameters of his character. The cards and the doll were jarring and unnecessary, but whatever. The stripper scene was gratuitous and its only point was to serve up boobs. It added nothing to the story and just made me feel uncomfortable. Look, I watch A LOT of horror films and I have seen A LOT of boobs, and I don’t really mind it if it serves a purpose or seems well integrated. But it always bothers me when it seems exploitative, and this felt like a not particularly sophisticated 15-year-old wrote that part of the movie. So yeah, this was a mixed bag for me. I’m going to recommend it, but with reservations.