Last night I was cramped for time, so I had to pick a short movie. Let’s Be Evil had been sent to me a few weeks ago, and it was 82 minutes long – perfect! Not quite. Turns out there are many other things that would have been more worthwhile than watching this low budget sci-fi/horror. Directed by Martin Owen, and co-written by Owen and leading actress Elizabeth Morris, Let’s Be Evil tells the story of three broke young people (Morris, Kara Tointon, and Elliot James Langridge) who take a side gig as chaperones to a group of child geniuises enrolled in a mysterious project. Naturally, things go wrong, and the lives of the three protagonists are placed in peril.
No bones about it, this is a bad movie. The problems are mostly contained in the wretched script, but they don’t start until the end of Act 1. This is a common issue with would-be screenwriters – everything is pushed into the first act, because that’s what all the books say. Writing a killer first act is great advice, but you don’t do it at the expense of everything else, and that’s what happens in Let’s Be Evil. Being as this is not Owen and Morris’s first screenplay, and since I haven’t actually read their screenplay, it’s hard to say exactly how the thing reads, but it’s a sure bet that it’s every bit as bad as the finished movie given that Owen directs ,and Morris stars. They don’t, in other words, have anyone else to blame for this sorry mess. But yes, Act 1 is promising. Starting with an interesting and engaging prologue, we’re introduced to Jenny (Morris) as a young girl as she witnesses a traumatic event. Later, when the movie proper starts, we see the portrait of an older Jenny, compassionate and caring. It’s all pretty decent. When Jenny travels to the jobsite and meets her new coworkers Tiggs and Darby (Tointon and Langridge), all three of them have good chemistry together, although not soon after this, I was wary – while the actors are mostly engaging, there’s a suspicious lack of depth about them. Still, nothing terrible yet. When they meet the kids, oblivious by means of intense virtual reality schooling, it’s an interesting set up. There are some professional-looking CGI effects, and I got the sense that things were moving in the right direction – like Ex Machina, it plays like an episode of the excellent Netflix series Black Mirror. But then Act 1 ends, and all the problems start.
Getting the trivial stuff out of the way first, this movie is just plain annoying to look at. On one hand, you have the graphics I mentioned above, and there’s the nifty visual of a holographic avatar of the story’s AI character, Ariel, which reminded me a little of Halo’s Cortana, but beyond that, the movie is a visual dud. It takes place in an enclosed environment, but the lack of budget places the action in what looks like a 70s work breakroom. Not only is the lack of tech apparent, but the place is full of 90s-era PCs. Given that we’re talking about an extreme high tech company, the setting and its trappings were just bullshit. The movie also features characters walking down the same corridor throughout the running time, and returning to rooms with zero visual flair. It’s like the filmmakers were given permission to film in some buddy’s workplace at the weekend, and its rubbish. Given that the movie is all about both virtual and augmented reality, I could see the spartan surroundings being the “real” world, buried beneath a digital layer, but the budget and imagination of the writers doesn’t extend that far.
Going a little deeper, once the characters are introduced, there’s zero attempt to develop them in Act 2. The three of them proceed throughout the movie with no changes, thus no sense of commitment or identification the part of the audience. There is zero depth to any of them – only Jenny appears to have an inner life, by means of the old “recurring dream” plot device, but the dream actually goes nowhere, to the point where you wonder why they bothered including it in the first place. Equally, the dialogue is very poor – mostly wooden, and while the delivery of Tointon and Langridge is decent enough, Morris’s is so bland and affectless I wondered how much acting she had actually done before this movie. It’s a problem, given she is the main protagonist.
An even bigger problem here is the nature of the actual threat. The children, of whom the title pertains, are woefully presented as the movie’s threat. They spend most of the movie sitting at tables or sleeping. When the exposition-laden ‘threat” begins, they are then merely glimpsed standing around looking mildly creepy. There’s absolutely no sense of “evil” generated here. The movie might as well be called “Let’s Be Mischievous”. This lack of conflict is rendered even more inert by the fact that in response to the kids, the three adults become terrified really quickly. It’s phony, but worse, it’s silly, and it leads directly to what surely must be THE worst movie death scene in recent memory. I could not believe what I was seeing here – it isn’t just bad, it’s THAT bad. It’s the singularity of the movie, sucking into it all the stuff that has gone before and the remainder of it, into a black hole so deep and impenetrable that I fear for the careers of those involved. In a movie that is meant to show murderous children, with the word “Evil” in the title, it’s laughably pathetic. Owen and Morris should have watched Cronenberg’s The Brood before writing this garbage – they could even have learned a lot from John Carpenter’s completely underwhelming remake of Village of the Damned.
There’s a reveal at the end that not only can be glimpsed from miles away, but it’s handled so poorly and uninterestingly that I got annoyed by it only because the movie drained away another couple of minutes of my life.
I realize, looking back on this review that I was wrong when I said the movie should have been called “Let’s Be Mischievous” – the true title should have been “Let’s Be Awful”.
© 2017 Andrew Hope