The Evil Within is an inconspicuous horror film with an inconspicuous horror title. You’d probably scroll past it on a streaming service, waving it off as another forgettable venture into low-quality genre filmmaking. You would probably not realise that this film was made by meticulous meth-addict millionaire Andrew Getty and that the filming was a tortured six year venture full of legal disputes and funding collapses. You also wouldn’t be able to tell from its generic horror wrapping that Getty, heir to the Getty oil fortune, bankrupted himself by blowing an estimated 15 million dollars on The Evil Within. He also spent seven years obsessing over each frame of the final cut until his untimely death in 2015, after which the producers stepped in.
Potential cult status aside, The Evil Within is a questionable venture. The story of a young mentally disabled man (Frederick Koehler) pushed to a killing spree by an evil mirror is the kind of dangerously ignorant narrative you expect from much older horror films. Move past that, and you’ve still got a wholly unpredictable narrative which picks up and drops characters will-nilly and treats plot strands in much the same way. Getty’s attention span is infant, but his genre love is ravenous and magpie in nature; he wants to show us everything about this story, but also keep it shrouded in mystery. He wants to flaunt every single cool idea and surrealist horror image he’s rendered without too much consideration for the sum total. A lot of that could be down to a spontaneous script, or the perils of such a long production time. Considering how much Getty appeared to screw with the film as it was being made, there’s no surprise how disjointed it is.
Even if its all these things: inconsistent, silly, badly written, over-directed, over-produced, there’s something innately watchable about The Evil Within. And its not just the lure of the behind-the-scenes drama. Getty’s cast is a strong one comprised of cult stars like Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints, Saw 3D; The Final Chapter), Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers, Saw 2), Kim Darby (True Grit 1969, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), David Banks (Doctor Who), and Matthew McCrory (The Devil’s Rejects). Not to mention, of course, the genuinely horrifying appearance of genre superstar Michael Berryman, who appears to be the keystone of Getty’s passion project. Berryman’s shadowy tormentor is one of the few constants in the whole film, helping tie the film’s hyperactive narrative together under one constant bogeyman.
But it’s the filmmaking process that’s so interesting here. Getty’s scares are surprisingly effective because they operate under nightmare logic: they don’t quite go as you might expect. The timing of the scares is odd, but the imagery is disturbingly well conceived. Absurd creatures and perverse mutations run rampant as the film spirals out of control. Getty’s shots are infiltrated by boisterously weird inserts, nonsensical camera work, and ill-fitted effects. The barrier between worlds is lifted with amatuer charm, like an unfocused Lynchian experience. Under that though, there’s some really pretty cinematography. For all its laughable faults, The Evil Within is unsettling, brutal, harsh, and gives very few shits about your expectations. Getty has left behind a singular bizarre unique credit, his magnum opus by-proxy.
The Evil Within has cult classic written all over it. Wrought backstory aside, it’s still a belter of an intriguing project crammed with goodies. Getty’s swansong is far from cohesive and even further from great, but it’s a definate, entracing curio. Horror fans will appreciate the madcap dedication and that’s all that matters.
Dir. Andrew Getty
Stars: Frederick Koehler, Sean Patrick Flanery, Dina Meyer, Michael Berryman, Brianna Brown, Francis Guinan