A mentally-handicapped young man named Dennis spends most of his time lost in his own thoughts. Even though he is looked after by his brother, John, Dennis tends to remain isolated and alone. That is until he is visited by a demon in his sleep. Now Dennis can no longer tell when he is awake or when he is dreaming as the demon takes possession of the young man and causes him to go on a murderous rampage.
Oh, boy. “The Evil Within”. A movie with such an unusual history that it sounds like the plot to a movie itself. Sadly though, it is a very unfortunate reality.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story behind “The Evil Within”, I’ll try to break it down as simply as I can. It’s a passion project 15-years in the making from the heir to the Getty Oil Company, Andrew Getty. Andrew set out to make a movie (his first and only movie) based on a series of reoccurring nightmares he had. Production was started in 2002 and Andrew sunk a predicted 5-million dollars into the film (some speculate it was more). He would never see the film completed as he eventually passed away while editing the movie in 2015. One of the film’s original and remaining producers, Michael Luceri, completed the film as a way of honoring Andrew Getty.
There is a much more elaborate history to the film (which there are plenty of articles on) but that is basically the history of the film in a nutshell. Normally I would fall into the camp of believing a film’s production woes has no barring on the final product itself and should remain separate when watching said film. In the case of “The Evil Within”, I do believe the history is important in understanding why the film failed.
Unfortunately many writers are already quickly jumping at the reigns to call “The Evil Within” one of the worst movies ever made. In part, because hyperbole sells like a motherfucker. But mostly it has to do with the fact that a story, which is already sad, is made that much worse when it’s about a person who dies trying to accomplish a dream and that dream turns out to be a failure.
It’s the kind of story that sells even better than needless exaggeration.
Truth be told: “The Evil Within” is not that bad. It’s not good, mind you, but it’s far from being the worst thing that was ever made. If we are going to use bad movies that reside within pop-culture knowledge as a baseline for measuring quality, “The Evil Within” does not reach the levels of gross incompetence of movies like “The Room”, “Troll 2” or “Birdemic”. Outside of “The Room”, none of them are actually comparable to “The Evil Within”.
However, if we are going to use other movies as a comparison of quality, the one that I would base it off of would “The Attic Expeditions”. “The Evil Within” and “The Attic Expeditions” share a lot of similarities — both are first-time features, both are early-noughties psychological-horror movies with a focus on nightmarish visuals. And in comparing the two, “The Evil Within” doesn’t come close to being as awful and unbearable as “The Attic Expeditions”. Even if Getty did meth every single day of pre-production, production and post-production could he make a film as bad as that. Or any of the others for that matter.
The reason I am willing to put “The Evil Within” above all of the aforementioned films is because Getty expressed some degree of competence and creativity within his movie. If I were to use any single word to describe his film it would be: misguided.
“The Evil Within” shows all of the flaws that come with someone’s first project — whether it be film or another creative endeavor entirely. In fact, if Getty’s movie was a short, it would have played out like almost every student-film there is. By that, I mean that there’s more of a focus on ideas rather than structure or storytelling. There are some people — few and far between — who have an exceptional understanding of what cinema is when they first step behind the camera. For everyone else, they are merely focused on capturing ideas. Scene concepts that they’ve had floating around in their head long before they ever starting writing a script. There’s so much focus on that aspect that they’re less worried about how that idea, that scene, will tie into a narrative but more so on simply creating and filming that scene. That’s where experience and knowledge comes into play.
The experience of making shorts and working on other people’s projects will act as a guiding hand and help in making decisions on whether or not something should be included in a script, or if it should be included in the final cut of the movie. Without that knowledge, a movie quickly becomes a collection of ideas rather than a form of visual storytelling. That’s one of the points in making student films and short films; experimenting and expressing ideas in order to have a better understanding of form and functionality. To make sure that they don’t waste time on filming scenes for no other reason than because they wanted that particular scene, whether it’s necessary or not.
That’s not always the case of course, since Jeremy Kasten had made short films before he made “The Attic Expeditions”, yet that film was still an unmitigated disaster. Or you have Rob Zombie and his film “Lords of Salem” — he made music videos and feature films before that but still managed to turn in a movie that was essentially amateurish trash that showed nothing but disconnected ideas.
Then again, Kasten’s failures can be tied into the fact that he didn’t understand the material or what kind of movie he was making. Where as Rob Zombie was impeded by his own ego and also by not giving a shit.
The simple notion of experience is why I would call “The Evil Within” misguided and find the idea laughable that it is this unimaginatively awful movie. Andrew Getty had the resources and the passion to make a movie but he didn’t have the knowledge that would have enabled him to make a good movie. He had the desire and the drive, certainly, but that only gets you so far. And in his case in particular, the fact that the concept of the movie stemmed from a personal matter acted as a hinderance more so than anything else. Why? Again, because he had certain ideas or visuals that he wanted to capture on film and was focused more on that than building an entire movie from a solid foundation.
Had he done that — solidified a concept as the foundation and then built up from that — then you wouldn’t have two storylines that feel completely disconnected from one another. You also wouldn’t have every scene of exposition taking place in the exact same restaurant, actors having zero understanding of their character’s emotional state in any scene, a looming threat having no bearing on any other aspect of the story or scenes up until the climax…The list goes on and on.
There is nothing that holds this movie together. And it’s not just that there’s a complete lack of structure to the story but individual scenes themselves have no structure. Scenes do not progress the story or the characters. For the most part, any of the dramatic scenes exist solely to take up space and time until the next big nightmare sequence. Which goes to show what “The Evil Within” is truly about a collection of ideas. Or scenes, to be more specific.
And it’s too bad because deep down there is a genuinely good concept of loneliness breeding insanity. It’s easy to tell that the story of a character having to battle against the darkness in isolation is something personal to Getty and why this project meant so much to him. It was just as much about exercising his own demons as it was about his desire to make a movie.
That doesn’t excuse “The Evil Within” and its inability to function like a movie but it does change the context of how it’s viewed. All the flaws can be traced back to the overwhelming misguided nature of the project and how a different approach, or perhaps some guidance or willingness to listen to outside forces could have saved Getty’s film. Because the initial concept is there, and some talent is displayed — the nightmare sequences themselves demonstrate competency and creativity. None of that matters though when everything else that surrounds the few decent aspects are an absolute mess.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking if I’m calling this film a failure and an absolute mess, then how can I criticize other people for saying that it’s the worse movie ever? That’s simple: because it’s not. “The Evil Within” is a bad movie, I cannot argue that. However, there’s nothing in it that’s inherently any worse than other bad movies. In fact, had this movie been made by some no-name director, actually completed and released in the early-noughties, then it would have found a DTV release and been forgotten about shortly after. There’s no cult potential here. Certainly some people will enjoy this movie ironically because I’m sure there’s plenty to laugh at with the general ineptitude of most dialogue scenes. But it’s not a so bad it’s good movie. It’s also not bad enough to be memorable. At the end of the day, it’s just an averagely bad movie.
With that being said, the unusual history behind the project and the tragedy of Getty not being able to see his passion project through to completion is what will keep this movie alive. It is unfortunate that this film, its history, and it’s failures, will be Andrew Getty’s legacy. It is also unfortunate that he didn’t have the chance to make another film because he had the potential to make a good movie. It’s just that naivety and misguided ambition turned what should have been nothing more than a learning experience into his one and only film.