These days everything needs a back-story, though few can compare with the story behind The Evil Within. Though before we delve into it, it must be said that The Evil Within is a very special film. It truly is a unique vision of an auteur who has created one of the darkest most paranoid and hallucinogenic films you will see. Ever.
The auteur is Andrew Getty, grandson of the petroleum tycoon J. Paul Getty, who used a large amount, some suggest four to six million dollars of his inheritance on his first film as a director – effectively bankrupting himself in the process.
The press release says, “principle photography began in 2002 and stopped and started over the next five with Getty personally creating all the sets, camera rigs and elaborate animatronic robots. Post production continued for an additional ten years as Getty quite literally laboured over every single frame of the film. Getty passed away in 2015 in the late stages of post-production.” He had colour graded it and completed all the effects yet he never saw the finished product, with the film was edited and completed by producer, Michael Luceri.
A lot has been made in the press about his methamphetamine addiction, and there’s no doubt he’s been able to imbue the film with a unique (at least in cinema) drug induced paranoia, yet Getty reported that the inspiration for The Evil Within came from persistent nightmares he suffered as a child.
Nightmares play a large role in The Evil Within, particularly that space in between sleep and wakefulness, where you’re not entirely which world you exist in. It tells the story of the intellectually disabled Dennis (Fred Kohler), who is cared for his older brother (Sean Patrick Flannery) and nagging girlfriend (Dina Meyer) who wants to put Dennis in a home. When his brother installs an antique mirror in Dennis’ room his reflection tells him to kill.
If it sounds derivative and b-grade you’re right it is. Yet it’s never been approached with such sincerity and anguish before. It’s convoluted and demented, one of the weirdest film experiences of recent times.
What makes it so odd is that it so uneven. The surreal, terrifying anything can happen dream world contrasts dramatically with the limp laughable dialogue, staid ‘Made for TV’ locations and scenarios of Getty’s world. To some extent he seems more at home in the nightmarish paranoia that Dennis experiences, than with what should be regular dinner scenes or picnics in the park that are imbued with an awkward unintentional tension. This serves to make The Evil Within even more demented, Scenes go on to long, or appear entirely unnecessary, characters say unlikely nonsensical things like “there’s a crime in progress,” and there is a scene in a cafe where they ask a friend to call the police and he says “I don’t want to.” For no reason. The script is littered with these little odd moments.
Getty’s vision has not been edited or even questioned. It’s outsider art masquerading as a genre film. Its morality is sketchy, or at the least bleak, falling outside of normal cinematic, or perhaps even societal expectations and conventions.
His ‘in camera’ special effects though are remarkable. There are things that he does technically, ideas he executes that are truly mind blowing. It’s difficult to even conceive of many of the macabre scenarios he envisages, let alone executes. It’s probably due to the amount of time he allowed himself, a luxury most features do not have. It’s imaginative and truly brilliant. Most importantly you don’t question it, it’s terrifying.
And that’s the key to The Evil Within. It is a totally insane psychotropic film unlike anything else ever. It shows you how fascinating films can be when they are singular, slightly unhinged visions not made by committee at the behest of corporations solely concerned with profits. It’s actually hard to know how good this film is because after watching The Evil Within I have no idea what reality is. It’s such a slippery piece of cinema. It’s both terrible and genius. A truly great film.