It probably won’t blow your mind to learn that Evil Things, a debut horror film by Dominic Perez, is told in found footage. Over the last few years, it almost seems as though 40% of the indie genre output is composed of first-person filmmaking, a tool that can yield everything from the economically effective to the nauseatingly shrill. Though first-time filmmaker Perez doesn’t throw as powerful a punch as earlier installments like REC or Paranormal Activity, Evil Things does display a strong level of craftsmanship that sucks you in to the unfolding tragedy.
Five young Manhattanites take a road trip upstate to the country, where birthday girl Miriam (Elyssa Mersdorf)’s aunt has left them a handsomely isolated home for a weekend of wintery fun. En route, the gang pass a mysteriously slow-moving van that seems to follow them on a few pit stops until they’re safely chugging beer and mugging more for Leo (Ryan Maslyn)’s new handheld camera. All is fun and innocent (enough) until an ill-fated walk through the woods ends in tension and a far more unfortunate nighttime crank caller makes his presence known.
On one hand, it’s hard to delve into Evil Things without spoiling the story. At the same time, the narrative follows most found footage films by opening with a prologue that explains how the five characters we’re about to meet have disappeared, leaving only the next 90 minutes of film for us to draw our conclusions as to their whereabouts. Hence, we watch Evil Things with a fairly straightforward idea of where it’s heading, at least to the extent of what we’ll be able to see based on who’s holding the camera.
If I sound a little bored, it’s more with the subgenre du jour than Evil Things’ actual quality. Much like the slasher or independent zombie romp, found footage horror has simply reached the point of oversaturation, meaning that even the good ones–and Evil Things is genuinely good–end up feeling progressively less effective with every passing entry.
That being said, Perez displays plenty of competence as a filmmaker and his cast–mostly amateurs with few feature credits to their names–does an excellent job of playing real and unexceptional people caught in an increasingly dangerous situation. Perez is wise to avoid the token tropes so cliched in horror. Sure, we have the happy couple (Morgan Hooper as Mark and the scene-stealing Laurel Castillo as Cassy), the filmmaker, nice girl Miriam and shyer Tanya (Torrey Weiss) but none fit the tropes so prevalent in the majority of horror. It’s refreshing to think of characters by name rather than The Joker, The Bad Girl, The Virgin, and other labels so tiresome and ultimately makes their fate far more devastating.
The actual horror elements of Evil Things are decent, if never quite groundbreaking. Perez seems to draw inspiration from genre classics like Duel and The Blair Witch Project, and within the ‘scare’ scenes, the tension is strong. Unfortunately, the limits of found footage ultimately result in a bit of frustration to the film’s climax although the extended credits coda offers an unsettling response that almost makes up for it.
Evil Things isn’t the best in the new wave of found footage horror, but it’s a strong independent thriller that makes great use of its elements. The film will be available for rental or purchase from all the usual outlets beginning August 9th. To learn more, visit Evil Things’ official website at www.evilthingsmovie.com.