I'm a big fan of handheld styled lost footage films and have seen a good deal of them too. From Blair Witch to the imperfect, but effective, The Last Broadcast and all the way to the most recent Paranormal Activity, I love the genre, and something about the filming technique just works for me. Very often, there is some sort of marketing behind these films - Blair Witch clearly did this best with its use of the Internet to make many suspecting cinema goers believe the occurrence on screen were real, even setting up an entire mythos and back story just to suck people in even further. While also using the Internet, Cloverfield did something entirely different, as it was pretty obvious that the events in the one time untitled movie did not happen in real life, but they were able to create a massive amount of interest and intrigue by not showing anything and keeping the secret as to what exactly was behind all the ruckus.
Then there's a film like The St. Francisville Experiment. Hot on the heals of Blair Witch, the filmmakers of The Saint Francisville Experiment claimed in the pages of Fango that the handheld events depicted in the movie were real. I, for whatever asinine reason, believed them, and when I saw the film, it was the fakest shit I had ever seen. It was as unrealistic as you can get, and when you have shots coming from cameras that are clearly not operated by your characters, there is a major problem. I hate that movie.
All of this brings me to a package I received the other day; stamped with the word CONFIDENTIAL on it, the 8x5 manila envelope contained a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (you know, the FBI!) that asked for my assistance in a missing persons case. On January of 2009, five college students left New York City to spend the weekend in the woods. 48 hours later, all five students simply vanished without a trace. The only lead in the case is a VHS tape that was found. That VHS tape was transferred to DVD and enclosed for my viewing with hopes that I can assist with the on going investigation in some way.
This was truly a nice little touch and a very smart and fun way to market a film, though, I thought it had something to do with my unpaid taxes at first, which is far scarier than anything in any handheld horror film. Now, what is this mysterious film you ask? It's called Evil Things, and it's the newest entry in the handheld horror genre using the lost footage hook. The lost footage thing is getting a bit played out, but the way this film was sent to me in such an involving packaging really brought it up a level and put me in a positive mood to see the movie.
Written and directed by Dominic Perez, Evil Things is a voyeuristic look at how five collage students end up missing while out for a fun filled, albeit, secluded weekend in upstate New York. On the way to their destination the group encounter a menacing van on the snowy and dangerous mountain roads, a menacing van that almost seems to be stalking them. They make it to their destination, which is a beautiful Country home lent to them so they can have the perfect place to celebrate one of the girls 21st birthday. While enjoying their amazing snow filled surroundings, and a whole lotta beers, they soon begin to believe they aren't alone and that someone, a hillbilly, a bear, or maybe even the person in the van from before, is stalking them.
Filmed in 7 days for a budget just around $10k, Evil Things being a vérité film uses one of the characters, who is an aspiring documentary filmmaker as the gateway to seeing this lost footage. To be honest, I really don't even need too much of an explanation for that aspect, so aspiring filmmaker works for me. I will say that the style is used quite efficiently and flows realistically from shot to shot for most of the film. That's important, even in this genre, because it could easily just look like a slop job if poorly shot and edited or, worse yet, if it were to look too forced.
Coming in at only 75 minutes, Evil Things is somewhat slow paced for a major portion of the film. There is a few slight moments of nicely executed threat when they are on their road rage road trip and a few little things happen to stir up a goosebump or two at the house they are staying at, but it's mostly slow goings for a bulk of the movie. With that said, the characters are all very well written (though a lot is improvised), honest and surprisingly realistic. I found myself not being bored because I actually enjoyed my time spent with the group, watching them act like dorky college kids out having fun together, all the while knowing something bad is eventually going to happen.
Another surprising aspect of Evil Things, is the actors themselves. They are all fairly young, late teen to early 20's, but there really is not a bad actor in the bunch. In fact, overall, the entire cast was very solid, with a standout performance specifically from Laurel Casillo who plays Cassy. Very engaging and just as cute, Casillo has a definite star quality to her and she is quite charming and a joy to watch on screen.
While the film is pretty slow to go, it is all payoff in the last 15 minutes. There is a great voyeuristic reveal that was more than effective in tingling my spine, and the whole ending is very tense and pretty well paced with the exception of a scene that is unrealistically dragged out, but has to be dragged out to serve its purpose. Still, the last moments are genuinely creepy and really sold me on the entire film, and this is also where the great secluded location really excels in its lack of protection and ease of access. I do wish there were more of an explanation as to what happens, but ambiguity may be a factor of budget.
I have a few quibbles, one of them being the use of music during the third act of the movie. It is very ambient and low key, but it's there and you really do not want to have a score in anyway in this type of film...even if the score is decent. Another thing that is less of a complaint and more of an observation is when the characters are in the snow covered woods, they more than once make reference to a noise probably just being a bear or possibly a bird. It's winter. I couldn't tell if this was meant to be played comically or not, or possibly this was showing the characters are a bit naive? I'm not sure, but I think that EVERYONE knows that bears and birds go to Bermuda for the winter months.
So in the pantheon of lost footage horror films, Evil Things certainly deserves a place, as it is a solid little horror movie made for less than peanuts. A better term might be peanut shells or peanut shell dust, perhaps? Either way, I had a good time with this one, and I loved the fun packaging that I received it in just to top it all off. With the success of Paranormal Activity, I would really like to see this movie get a bit of a boost and maybe a small theatrical run; it is deserving of such, and I always love to see the little guy do well, so hopefully this cute little campaign helps get the word spread a little bit.
You can learn more about Evil Things the movie, it's actors and the writer director Dominic Perez over at the official website, which has some testimonial videos from the missing kids family's and friends for added mysterious fun. No definitive DVD release date as of this time, but the gears are in motion for one, along with a possible sequel. If any news comes about, of course, you will be the first to know! Thanks to John from Freddy in Space for the heads up on this one.