Is ‘pretension’ in the eye of the beholder? Something intangible that gnaws away at the viewer without any other overt flaws in the product? Or is it an objective, appreciable issue which is possible to minimize or avoid altogether? When discussing the style of the horror movie Live Evil it might very well come off as pompous, but it is so visually arresting and full of thematic nuances that writer-director Ari Kirschenbaum’s approach works.
Live Evil follows Deputy Hancock (Charlene Amoia) as she works Halloween night. While investigating gunshots during a masquerade party, the power at the house goes off, and the partygoers flee en masse. As she looks around, she discovers dead bodies strewn about. She rushes back to the police station. She sees that unnatural events have happened here as well. An evil force, which senses people’s worst fears, is in one of the holding cells, forcing the inmates to do horrific deeds. Teaming up with Sheriff Pete (Vladimir Kulich) and a handful of other survivors, Hancock tries various ways to defeat the malicious presence, as bodies start coming back from the grave. Can this small group fend off the zombie horde and the mind-controlling evil?
“An evil force, which senses people’s worst fears, is in one of the holding cells…”
Ari Kirschenbaum’s screenplay gradually reveals complex layers as the movie progresses, with even minor characters coming across as fully formed. The more that is discovered about the entity, the greater the danger the characters are in, the more the audience invests in the outcome. Russ De Jong’s cinematography is breathtaking, which heightens the viewer’s engagement. Live Evil takes advantage of every inch of the frame, with concurrent foreground and background action being put to excellent use. The music is equally evocative, so the entire experience is creepy to all the senses.
Kirschenbaum directs his third movie since 2002. Occasionally, when a director has been out of the game for so long, or only ever intermittently in it, a distinct lack of know-how or visual flair is readily apparent. Live Evil is dazzling from a visual standpoint. Every frame a painting, but it is also where the pretension might come in for some. The first third (possibly a bit more than that) of the movie is filmed in black and white. Absolutely nothing wrong with such a choice, but then it switches to color after the evil taps into one of the heroes’ brain and causes his terror to be his undoing. If the viewer isn’t paying attention to every single happening and revelation about the zombies and the nature of the villainous being, the transition will make no sense. By blinking the audience will miss the cues for the stylistic changeup, causing the movie to be seen as pretentious; though, it has more on its mind than just that.
“…takes advantage of every inch of the frame, with foreground and background action being put to excellent use…”
Which reveals the biggest flaw with the film, the writing is too dense for its own good. There are a lot of ideas at play throughout the movie- the entity and where it comes from, why it starts at the jail, how it manipulates people, how it creates zombies, the humorous chapter titles, and the interstitial floating demonic heads are but a few of the elements the movie juggles. At only 95 minutes, the film is not long enough to properly balance the interpersonal drama and all of these components. Expanding the screenplay to better explore everything on its mind would create a more rewarding watch for the audience. Plus, the ending happens abruptly, with little build up. Everything feels a bit rushed in the last ten minutes, leaving confusion as the final take away.
The chapter titles are humorous, with each successive one being crazier than the last. But that cleverness never materializes in the dialogue, as just about all the quips or moments of levity do not work. A grim and gritty take is not always the right approach (i.e.- Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and its horrid reception), so the need for lighter moments, to show that these people are still human, is reasonable. But the jokes are either obvious or strain to make sense in context. So much care is taken to make the characters relatable that it is a shame the emotional truth of the scenario gets lost.
Live Evil is ambitious to a fault. It doesn’t properly explore everything it presents and the wit is misguided and forced. But the original premise has empathetic and agreeable characters, the actors are all capable, and the direction is stylish to boot, with the use of black and white then color photography being particularly brilliant.
Live Evil (2016) Directed by Ari Kirschenbaum. Written by Ari Kirschenbaum. Starring Charlene Amoia, Vladimir Kulich, Tim Ross, Tony Todd, Vincent M. Ward, Ira David Wood III.
8 out of 10 Gummi Bears