Studio: Vision Films
Director: Andrew Getty
Writer: Andrew Getty
Producer: Robert Hickey, Michael Luceri, Kent Van Vleet
Stars: Sean Patrick Flanery, Dina Meyer, Frederick Koehler, Michael Berryman, Francis Guinan, Brianna Brown, Matthew McGrory, Kim Darby
A mentally handicapped man is driven by a nightmare of his own reflection to kill everyone in his life, including his brother.
“The Evil Within” is exactly the sort of disaster you’d expect from a meth-addled oil heir with no filmmaking experience sinking a seven-figure sum of his personal fortune into five years of shooting before spending another eight years in post-production, only to be further paper clipped and rubber banded into some semblance of a movie posthumously released two years after the director’s unusual death. In other words, it’s a cinematic clusterf*ck of Tommy Wiseau proportions.
Knowing a bit about how the film came to be is essential in appreciating its baffling bizarreness in context. Someone smart is undoubtedly developing a docudrama based on behind-the-scenes dirt. As weird as the true story is, it’s at least moderately more coherent than the fictional one in the film.
Inspired by his own haunting nightmares, Andrew Getty, grandson of billionaire tycoon J. Paul Getty, drafted a screenplay called “The Storyteller” with the long-term goal of becoming a horror auteur. Cameras subsequently started rolling in 2002 on a production that would stop, start, stop, and start again through 2007, when Getty converted a room of his mansion into an editing and effects suite. There, he tinkered with the final footage for another on-and-off period lasting until his 2015 death.
Getty’s longtime friend Noelle Leanne told People Magazine that Getty “was addicted to train wrecks.” Apparently so much so that he obsessed over orchestrating one of his own.
Getty reportedly burned through as much as $6 million of his own money to bring his delirious vision to life through pointlessly elaborate setpieces and ill-advised equipment purchases. From the look of things, that budget estimate seems high by at least two zeroes. One scene set at a sea-themed Chuck E. Cheese knockoff is populated by ugly cartoon robots flailing so stiffly, a hobo would be embarrassed to call them “poor man’s animatronics.” Other visual tricks appear crafted from a prototype version of Adobe After Effects circa 1993.
Producer Michael Luceri pieced the film together after Getty’s demise and finally stewarded it to distribution channels in 2017. Final cut was clearly cobbled from incomplete parts, as many characters are inconsequential, subplots stall in their tracks, and the narrative is regularly distracted by so much pompous preposterousness that a big bite of it makes no sense.
Frederick Koehler stars as Dennis, a mentally handicapped man struggling to live under the overprotective guardianship of his huffing and puffing older brother John (Sean Patrick Flanery). Koehler’s performance is convincingly sympathetic, albeit uncomfortably problematic when removed from its 2002 conception year, when it was merely misguided, and viewed under a millennial light of political correctness, where it now reads as insensitively tone deaf.
Koehler’s scenes often require him to recite lengthy monologues of gibberish or unnecessarily poetic prose, whichever mood suited Andrew Getty’s mind at the time of writing. Providing narration during a dream sequence, Koehler identifies a carnival funhouse as “the snow capped summit in the topography of juvenile taste … its façade promised more than papier-mâché monsters wrapped in derelict-resisted chicken wire.” A barker is described as having “all the joie de vive of a cancer patient.”
Dennis is disturbed to discover John ditched his comic collection to make room for an antique mirror because “it matches the motif of the furniture” in Dennis’ bedroom. The bigger reason Dennis is upset is because he recognizes the mirror from a nightmare that brought him face to face with an evil incarnation of his reflection.
With the mirror now confronting him in reality too, Dennis descends down a dark tunnel toward madness where his aggressive reflection manipulates him into becoming a murderer. On occasion, the reflection morphs into Michael Berryman, playing a boogeyman the credits call Cadaver. I’m not entirely sure what role Berryman’s demon is/was meant to play. But he does front the box art, so it must have been necessary at some point.
That sentiment fits virtually everyone in the supporting cast. Dina Meyer makes out the best of anyone as Lydia, a frustrated girlfriend who can’t see her future with John when Dennis is in the picture. A social services worker threatening to separate the brothers based on an “anonymous” welfare endangerment tip is also in the mix. “The Evil Within” seems to set up a side story insinuating Lydia is surreptitiously pulling puppet strings here. But the custody and relationship dramas are only two more bungled buds dying on the vine as the film fumbles forward.
John also sees a therapist who is important enough to have two solo scenes with John, even though their interactions have nearly no bearing on anything. John spots another random character and exclaims, “there’s Pete! Pete from the bookstore!” Who is Pete? Who knows? He probably has something to do with Chuck, a character never seen who both men mention in conversation. Everyone onscreen seems to echo the same “WTF?” expression you’ll have while watching, as even the people involved cannot figure out what the Hell their movie is doing.
The full film extends itself so far past “bad” and into “bonkers” that it becomes a curiosity of pitiably imprudent ineptitude. From disjointed fiction to overwhelmed ambition, “The Evil Within” truly is to horror what “The Room” is to drama. You should see it for yourself, if only to be in awe of its awfulness.
Review Score: 40