You know it: there's been a rash of found footage films that's been going on solidly for about a decade now. I suppose each of them has something relevant to add to the phenomenon, but, at some point, I think it's increasingly difficult to find greater value in continuing a `found footage' project unless it posits to bring something fresh to the scene. That's not an easy sell, mind you; in fact, I'd suspect that those kinds of projects are few and far between. Still, without bringing something original to the format, is this truly a tale worth being told in this way (i.e. merely being a found footage motion picture)?
With REEL EVIL, the results are a bit conflicted.
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
Budding documentary filmmakers Kennedy (played by the fetching Jessica Morris), Cory (Kaiwi Lyman), and James (Jeffrey Adler) are hoping to get their big break in Hollywood when they respond to an advertisement seeking a film crew to shoot an official behind-the-scenes short for a studio horror film. As luck would have it, they find more than they bargained for: the movie takes place inside a former psychiatric hospital - complete with its own sordid past - where they soon realize they can wander off and capture footage for their own project. However, before the night is over, they're bound to unlock more secrets as they find themselves trapped in a never-ending maze ... and they're not alone.
Yes - just to clarify - this is (yet) another found footage film, but I'll briefly try to explain why it, perhaps, shouldn't have been.
See, the basic format of the found footage film builds itself around certain expectations for the delivery. For example, `found footage' means just that - the footage is intended to be a mostly raw presentation of what took place or what happened to the central characters. Furthermore, as the footage is intended to be presented in its bare bones format, there should be little if any evidence of post-production tinkering of any fashion because that - by definition - tends to interrupt the narrative flow of the `found' story.
REEL EVIL, to its detriment, kinda/sorta veers off from the traditional `found footage' sub-genre of horror in several ways. First, the story is cobbled together by several cameras - a few of which were independent from control of the main characters and, thusly, wouldn't have been part of the `found footage' phenomenon being captured by the crew. The most prominent example of this is a scene captured by two minor characters on a cell phone; because this footage wasn't part of the end product being filmed by Kennedy, Cory, and James, it ends up reminding the audience that what it's watching IS a motion picture, not a found footage reel, directly. This causes a break in the natural flow of the story (at least it did for me), producing the effect to pull me out of the story. Even worse, however, was the fact that either scribe Shane Bitterling or director Danny Draven decided that a music soundtrack was required as part of the REEL EVIL experience; see, `found footage' films don't use soundtracks because, as I think I've tried to be clear, they are compilations of `found footage,' and they necessarily wouldn't have a pounding orchestral accompaniment.
To the film's credit, there are several very good ideas and several very good scares at play here, so many that I think the film would've been better served to trash the whole `found footage' experience entirely and simply go with a traditional horror film. In fact, some of the experiences might've worked better that way, and I think it would've opened up the story to more opportunity for some creative storytelling. As it is, there are some legitimate `creeps' in there. It would've been served up with more had Draven and company embraced a different format.
REEL EVIL is produced by Full Moon Entertainment, and DVD distribution appears to have been handled by their subsidiary, Full Moon Direct. As for the technical aspects, I'll have to admit that I find it increasingly difficult to appraise `found footage' films. First, the sound is never the best (as that's part of the total package); second, the image is herky-jerky and sometimes hard to discern (as that's also part of the package); and, lastly, it's deliberately not all meant to look as prim and proper as regular theatrical releases. So I'll leave it at this: I think it looks and sounds exactly as well as the director and producer wanted. For disc enthusiasts, there's a wealth of special features, including a commentary track, some behind-the-scenes production shorts, a blooper reel, music video, and an assortment of trailers for related releases. They certainly didn't skimp on the side dishes, and I'm sure there's something for everyone who's interested.
2 and one-half stars. RECOMMENDED. It's a perfectly average experience that coulda/shoulda/woulda been better. As scares go, it's a harmless way to spend 77 minutes. Despite the fact that REEL EVIL tries to combine one genre with a sub-genre in it, there are plenty of sparks of inspiration in it, enough that I would've strongly recommended - were I in pre-production - to chuck the whole `found footage' aspect and focused on a traditional horror film. While I can't predict the outcome, I'd honestly think it may've been better received by audiences. The story meanders a bit in the second half when it's reduced to little more than the lost crew trying to find their way out of the haunted hospital, and that needed tightening up in order to produce a cleaner production. Otherwise, it delivers exactly what it promises: a found-footage flick with ghosts aplenty ... but it could've been something more.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Full Moon Features provided me with an advance DVD screener of REEL EVIL by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.