Dark night shots complete with car headlight beams in the mist are usually a sign that a horror story is on the cards. Particularly when they’re filmed in the local woods to save money. Most people can probably recognise the ‘unseen demon’ point of view camera from The Evil Dead moving through the foliage, after all these are all staple elements. So you’ll be surprised to hear that this isn’t really about any of that. Sure the ancient evil of the forest is going to awaken, as the opening narration suggests, but if anything this takes far more from The Crow – so you know how things are going to turn out. The black and white make-up on the poster isn’t there by accident. Evangeline, or Eva to her friends, isn’t going to be having a very good day.
After a tragedy in the family she moves away from home to study and stay at a college dorm. Just as the film itself has a kind of split personality she will soon be having an identity crisis of her own. But for the most part the opening is, dare I say it, likeable; even if those problems at home are lacking any real kind of depth or explanation. Sure the naïve new girl in town stuff feels like a soap opera much of the time, but the acting is fairly natural for this kind of thing. Her room mates have enough charm to pull it off … although the dancing extras during the party they soon visit are less convincing. There’s plenty of drinking and puking, but at least these parts are competently done. However the less than scary sub-plots soon come calling, and none of them will help a hangover.
As I mentioned, she has no luck at all and things quickly go sour after she turns down a friend’s family meatloaf to spend time alone. This town has a few rather bad eggs who all seem to be in the nearby vicinity, and the local fraternity house boys are just a part of it. Eva will have to contend with a run in with these violent rich kids as well as finding herself at the mercy of an unfriendly vagrant; and this is all before she bumps into a killer who’s been picking up hitchhiking girls. The story splinters off to spend far too much time with this guy who likes to work out in the nude and obsesses over his car paintwork when he’s not digging shallow graves. It’s an odd thing to show so much of when you know all of these contrived and unoriginal moments exist just to give her a motivation for revenge later on.
You can tell these are the horror scenes because the colour temperature changes so dramatically. But besides being abrupt there’s not much in terms of effective mood building. The jumps in tone are pretty jarring, and the predictable nature of the story just means you’re waiting for the karma backlash to hit. This eventually comes in the form of an evil spirit shown living in what seems to be limbo, represented by a basement where Eva’s subconscious sits tied to a chair. It’s not a bad idea in itself but offers little of note besides a few interesting shots of this entity, with claws appearing from the darkness to give her a mood swing and a boost in strength at the opportune moment. The make-up and digital effects used to show her transformation are far less effective. They don’t explain any of this, or how it ties into the Christian teachings which seemed important to the character earlier on. Is it a commentary on faith? The bookend narration just ends up being rambling and inconclusive when it’s mixed with Japanese folklore. In the end it all poses too many questions without any answers.
Plenty of folks have time for a standard tale of vengeance, but this isn’t focused enough to deliver in that department. The narrative is far too meandering and they should have stuck with one decent villain instead of several unconvincing ones. The scenes of everyday drama are what the makers seem best suited for. The moments that are meant to be unsettling just devolve into uncreative deaths full of shaky editing, and the cuts showing the evil in basement try and add some supernatural flavour but get old fast. Eva and her buddies just don’t get enough party time together. This might have worked well as a team up against sinister forces in the right hands. You’ve seen the rip roaring tales of revenge done elsewhere along with those more sombre versions, if that’s your thing it’s probably best to re-watch them instead.