Review: “The Evil Within” (2017)

The life’s work of a flawed genius

Hello there fellow wanderers in woe, it’s Thakgore and today I bring you a review of one of the more confounding films I’ve ever seen, “The Evil Within”. We rarely ever see a true “magnum opus” in the horror genre but this film is the absolute definition of the term. While it is certainly flawed I think it’s also the most unique film released so far this year. So sit back and let’s explore…

For fifteen years “The Evil Within” was the all consuming obsession of oil heir Andrew Getty all the way up to his untimely death in 2015. He meticulously worked on every aspect of the film while, at the same time, draining his considerable fortune in the effort to produce his masterwork. He built custom camera rigs, renovated his home where much of the filming took place and even built huge, custom animatronic set pieces. The main star of the film, Frederick Koehler, even recalls Getty eating cereal at dinner for weeks because he’d sunk every dime he had into the production. The genesis of this film is the stuff of Hollywood legend and the end product is indeed a fascinating piece of art that deserves to be seen.

The story revolves around Dennis (Koehler), a mentally handicapped young man who has terrible nightmares that he’s convinced are being whispered to him by someone or something in his sleep. His caretaker brother John (Sean Patrick Flanery) is torn between his responsibilities to Dennis and his relationship with longtime girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer) who wants John to commit Dennis so that they can start a new life together. When John brings home an antique mirror Dennis begins to have conversations with an entity inside of it that starts to slowly twist him into a ruthless killer.

Let me start off by saying that this film is technically flawed from start to finish. Andrew Getty may well have been a creative genius, aspects of this film attest to that, but he was an untrained filmmaker and his inexperience shows. The narrative structure of the film is all over the place with muddled character motivations and scenes that go on for far too long with little to no point. The acting from nearly everyone involved, with the notable exception of Frederick Koehler’s fantastic performance, is pretty bad. Whether this was due to a production that started and stopped several times over a decade or amateur direction and writing is up in the air. I’d say it’s probably both. Despite all this the film is mesmerizing and there is true genius at work behind it’s glaring flaws. Every awful scene seemed to be matched by one that captivated and genuinely terrified me.

Much of the film involves nightmares and unreality. This is where Andrew Getty’s genius is grandly displayed. The opening sequence particularly, narrated by Koehler, while filled with some overly dramatic and trite dialogue, is the best representation of a dream I’ve seen since “The Sopranos”. There are several times in the movie where Dennis is trapped within his nightmares battling with the evil entity and in these moments I found myself enraptured by the clear passion at play. While Getty seems bored with the more “normal” scenes in the movie, which are by far it’s weakest, he was truly in his element when bringing his personal nightmares to life. Clever angles and editing choices are woven together to put the viewer on edge and fill them with a sense of what it’s like to live a dream spun horrifically out of control. With so much of the movie hinging on their effectiveness I felt these crucial scenes managed to hold the film together just enough to keep it from exploding into a confused mess.

Since the film was produced over a fifteen year span it does, of course, feel disjointed. At times coming off like a mish-mash of scenes that have very little to do with one another. The motivations of the characters are strongly defined by the actors one moment only to be undermined by a poor performance in another. Whether this is due to great swaths of time between filming I couldn’t say but it does make for an uneven film. While much of this can be explained away by the ending (which I won’t spoil but I think redeems a great many of the film’s flaws) it still might leave you rolling your eyes throughout. There was, however, one very positive aspect to this unique production. It is, chronologically, the last film released to star the late Matthew McGrory. I was very happy to see him pop up in a scene toward the end.

I do want to make special mention, again, of the amazing work done by Frederick Koehler in this film. He and Michael Berryman, who does a damn fine job himself playing the demon, were the only two actors to make it all the way through the production. Koehler manages to deftly walk a fine line between overacting and realism in his portrayal of the mentally handicapped Dennis. His scenes often involve him talking to himself and portraying both innocence and evil at the same time and he does a marvelous job. Several of his lines are delivered with such cold menace that I honestly got chills. He is the backbone of this movie and it would have fallen apart in the hands of a lesser performer.

In conclusion, while I can’t say that “The Evil Within” is a good film I also can’t recommend it enough. It is something totally unique. A singular work of madness spawned from the darkest depths of flawed genius. It is at once a bad movie and a great one and it really left me speechless by the end. I loved it and feel like it deserves multiple viewings just to begin to understand what Andrew Getty might have been trying to tell us. Kudos to the efforts of Getty’s friend and producer Michael Luceri for finishing the film and ensuring that it saw the light of day. It would have been a lamentable waste if it hadn’t. 4 out of 5

“The Evil Within” is available stream through Amazon and other VOD services.

Written by Thakgore

Horror fan since childhood. Also, a stay at home Dad, layabout and general rapscallion. Purveyor of all things diabolical, devious and dire as well as loquacious lover of ludicrous alliteration and bold balladeer of bellicose buffoonery. Master of the run-on sentence.

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