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Thursday, June 30, 2011

EVIL THINGS -- DVD review by porfle

If you're one of those people who sat through THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT wondering what the big deal was, you'll probably find the very similar EVIL THINGS (2009) equally uninvolving.  But if you're like me and was creeped out big time by the earlier film, then chances are this one will get your blood racing as well.

A group of five college students leave New York City and venture along snowy backroads in search of a secluded house where they plan to spend a fun weekend.  Forty-eight hours later, all five have vanished and the only thing left behind is the camcorder video taken by the missing Leo (Ryan Maslyn), which has been mysteriously sent to the FBI.  Thus, the story is seen entirely through the lens of his camera (and one other, as we'll discover later on). 

First-time director Dominic Perez creates a good sense of realism from the very start, with his talented cast doing a convincing job of acting like they aren't "acting" (which isn't that easy to do.)  The cinema verite' mood is set with Leo shooting the usual mundane-type stuff as the group piles into the car and sets off on their trip.  Naturally, he gets the usual pleas to "put that camera away!" and must occasionally defend his odd compulsion to keep it glued to his face even in the most awkward situations.

Leo and friends Cassy (Laurel Casillo) and the diminutive Tanya (Torrey Weiss) are unattached, with the only couple consisting of Miriam (Elyssa Mersdorf) and Mark (Morgan Hooper).  Their characters, thankfully, don't fall into the usual stereotype slots (jock, nerd, slut, good girl, party animal, etc.) and the fact that we can relate to them as real people makes later events much more effective.

The trouble starts when an unknown driver in a dark van starts to harrass them on the icy mountain highway for no apparent reason, in a scene which reminded me of the early part of Steven Spielberg's DUEL.  The mysterious van continues to show up at various points during the trip while the group becomes increasingly alarmed.  Finally, after being lost for hours on long, dark roads, they reach the shelter of the house and settle in as the tensions among them begin to drain away.  But their fun and frivolity will be short-lived, as it soon becomes apparent that they aren't alone.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is strongly evoked when they go for a hike in the woods and get lost.  Tempers flair and recriminations are bandied about until strange noises send everyone fleeing headlong through the dark woods in sheer panic.  (As in any film of this nature, the viewer must accept the fact that whoever's operating the camera will continue to do so even though any normal person would just drop the damn thing and run like hell.)  Bad vibes give way to relief when the brightly-lit windows of the house come into view, although it's within this supposed sanctuary that the real terror will eventually take place.

Much time is spent lulling us into the same false sense of security shared by Leo and his friends, during which some viewers may nod out.  They joke around for the camera, sit around chatting over wine and beer, bicker and whine a little, and, in a scene that will have a sadly ironic resonance later on, celebrate Cassy's 21st birthday with a surprise party.  All of this everyday stuff serves to make the film's sudden left turn into terror more abrupt and shocking.  And that's all I'm going to reveal--once you get the gist of it, further details would only spoil the experience. 

The DVD from Inception Media Group is in 16:9 widescreen with 5.1 surround sound and has a running time of 86 minutes.  I watched a screener so I can't comment on bonus features or other details.  Keep watching through the marathon closing credits for more unsettling video footage.

When all the lights go out and a harsh knock at the front door echoes through the pitch-dark house, director Perez really starts to ratchet up the tension.  Without any violence, gore, or supernatural elements of any kind (one of the main differences between this film and BLAIR WITCH), EVIL THINGS relies solely on an old-fashioned fear of the unseen and unknown to generate chills and suspense.  If you as a viewer can put yourself in the place of these characters and vicariously experience a small measure of their terror, then this movie will definitely give you the shivers. 

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