Studio: Full Moon Features
Director: Danny Draven
Writer: Shane Bitterling
Producer: Charles Band
Stars: Jessica Morris, Jeffrey Adler, Kaiwi Lyman, Michael Cline, Sandra Hinojosa, Galen Howard, Christian Edsall, Jamie Bernadette
When a movie crew uses an abandoned asylum as a filming location, the behind-the-scenes documentary team uncovers a history of horrors while exploring the building’s haunted hallways.
Some “found footage” horror critics have bemoaned the plotline of people trapped in a haunted asylum as being overused. “Reel Evil” takes that criticism one step further and films its haunted asylum story in the same location as “616: Paranormal Incident” (review here), another haunted asylum “found footage” film. In defense of “Reel Evil,” “616” released two months later and in all likelihood, both movies were filmed around the same time and without awareness of each other.
Still, arguing that another haunted asylum movie is warranted when said movie is also repeating an overused location will not swing the discussion. Among numerous projects, Linda Vista Hospital in Los Angeles has played host to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “True Blood,” and was Duran Duran’s asylum of choice for their “Falling Down” video. Mercifully, as of this writing in March 2013, Linda Vista is scheduled to begin transformation into a senior living community next month, which should prevent any more haunted asylum movies from ever being filmed there.
Besides, criticizing “Reel Evil” for an overused plot and overused filming location would be ignoring its many other faults. The greater offense is that “Reel Evil” has no interest in standing out amongst its competitors and unashamedly announces that it exists chiefly for quick cash.
“Reel Evil” does not even bother with the illusion of being authentic “found footage.” Cursed with one ineffective scare after another, attempts at artificially heightening tension are made with a music score whose conspicuously pulsing drumbeat would befit an industrial rave. Confusing itself for a 1990’s direct-to-video clunker, the movie also finds it necessary to include several scenes of gratuitous nudity. This is a great courtesy to those viewers without internet access who have no other available means to see boobs. Anyone interested in worthwhile storytelling will just find it another distraction from the rest of the movie’s mediocrity.
Kennedy, Cory, and James have landed a job filming the behind-the-scenes “Making Of” documentary for a drama film intent on winning awards with one actress and a five-person crew. “Reel Evil” is immediately in the hole because the conceit of the premise is more interesting than the story for which it is used. The film crew that they are documenting includes: a kleptomaniac Hollywood starlet stealing supplies from the makeup department when she is not sneaking off for sex with a crewmember, a supposedly “major” producer who alone provides enough evocative footage to keep TMZ in business, and a stereotypical director who melts down whenever anyone looks him directly in the eye. Yet somehow, the documentary team decides it would be more interesting to film cobwebs while exploring the basement instead of the plentiful onset drama in front of their faces.
And thus begins the routine search of inexplicably lit subterranean hallways that starts with a discarded wheelchair and gradually escalates to supernatural sightings. Color me on the edge of my seat with anticipation.
Something widely known about haunted asylums from “found footage” movies is that they are often in the habit of leaving patient records in the open for anyone to casually access. Violating any number of state and local laws about healthcare privacy, Doctor Klein of “Reel Evil” does one better by leaving prescription pill bottles next to his stacks of private medical files. And just to be clear that Doctor Klein was nefarious, his office bookcase is adorned with two skulls and a stuffed cheetah head, possibly to accompany the full skeleton and stuffed cheetah on the adjoining wall.
As their exploration continues, the intrepid trio discovers themselves strangely lost, walking in circles and ending up in impossible locations. To illustrate how the building is shifting its map and confusing its victims, “Reel Evil” chooses to sit on a long shot of a hallway. Characters are then laughingly seen entering one passageway and exiting on the opposite side, repeating the pattern with different results each time. While mildly amusing when performed by the Three Stooges or the Scooby-Doo gang, the usage here is insultingly ridiculous. Worse is that it is wholly unnecessary. The film had already established that the group was mysteriously turned around and the shifting hallway concept is well known from two “Grave Encounters” movies anyway (both of which are superior “found footage” haunted asylum films).
The technical front fares no better. Digital FX of ghosts appearing on night vision cameras are entirely unconvincing. Presumably they could not have been shooting on digital video either (in the fictional setting) as there are static corruptions impossible to achieve outside of an analog format. This could be forgiven if each instance was not accompanied by a harshly shrill static sound that is loudly annoying.
When “Reel Evil” is at its best, it is barely mediocre and still unremarkable. Nothing about the film takes a risk and even less is original or interesting. Between “Reel Evil” and “616: Paranormal Incident,” if you see only one “found footage” haunted asylum movie shot in Linda Vista Hospital, make it neither.
Review Score: 25