(Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi)
(Written John Swetnam)
(Starring Stephen Moyer, Radha Mitchell and Caitlin Stasey)
Plot: Detectives try to piece together a murder massacre at an abandoned gas station using found footage taken from video cameras and cell phones.
“Evidence” is a masterpiece…or at least it thinks it’s one. But before I explain my very complex feelings towards this…delightful piece of shit, I’ll explain what kind of movie potential viewers should expect. It’s part of the found footage subgenre of horror…sort of. In fact, that sentence can actually be very misleading, even though I’m not trying to lie. Much of the content is filmed using the first person POV methods employed by most examples of this genre, but the frame narrative plays out like a normal movie. If you’ve seen “Cannibal Holocaust“, it’s the same kind of scenario where the story surrounds people who are watching the found footage- which we experience with them. Throughout my viewing experience, I kept thinking of “The Fourth Kind” and how much like that movie, “Evidence” continues to draw attention to the fact that we- the audience- are watching a movie. After I had finished watching it and began preparation for my review, I had a good hearty laugh when I discovered that both films shared the same director. Apparently breaking the number one rule of cinema is part of his style, or maybe it’s a gimmick. But the whole point of cinema is that it’s suppose to be an illusion. You’re supposed to see characters struggling through a story, not actors following a script. The problem with Olatunde Osunsanmi’s films is that he constantly reminds us that everything we’re seeing is fake, so instead of losing ourselves in an experience, we stop caring because the movie won’t let us make any sort of emotional attachment. “Evidence” has a broken premise, although it’s bad for conventional reasons as well.
Nevertheless, I do almost want to applaud Olatunde Osunsanmi. He might have bad ideas, but at least he has ideas. He wants to provide us with a fresh twist on an old formula. He wants us to use our brains…although that doesn’t do “Evidence” any favors. I might condemn his logic and his films, but I almost prefer his failed ambitions over the tired, lazy output of mainstream cinema. At least he’s trying. The wraparound story, which I guess is technically the primary story in its own way even though the main characters don’t get as much screen-time (broken premise!), actually resembles a police procedural thriller. There has been a brutal massacre and they must go through the filmed evidence in order to figure out who the killer is. These scenes SUCK. The characters are already walking clichés and all of their interactions feel lifted from every cop drama ever made. When the protagonist (Stephen Moyer) insists to be put on the case, his partner/superior (Radha Mitchell) says “I don’t have time for your baggage“. He stresses “You need me!” and shortly after confides “I need this“, which wins her over. This exchange is very common in cop flicks, but most examples aren’t this blunt about it. The dialogue lacks flavor, not even trying to cover up the lack of originality and this writing backfires on the characters. The woman seems like a bitch when you learn what the ‘baggage’ is and the guy comes across as so unstable that I can’t blame her for attempting to turn him away. The actors oversell their performances although honestly, what else could they do? Radha Mitchell is a strong actress, but you can only take ‘stern female cop’ so far without being boring. I suppose the performances are not boring, but only because they’re glaringly bad. Ugh, you know you have a clichéd movie when your coroner has to stress that he’s on lunch break while being near a bunch of corpses. WE GET IT! EVERY COP MOVIE EVER MADE HAS DONE THIS! STOP IT! What the hell was with the cinematography? Visually, these segments resemble a low budgeted TV show. The lighting always seemed like it was at war with the camera, assaulting it with glares and inconsistent colors. Aesthetically, it all looked very fake to me. These technical flaws made me feel like I was watching a group of actors read from a bad script on a set, so none of the attempts at tension or suspense worked on me. This failure is cancerous and little did I know, it was about to spread…
The found footage segments are…better? I actually considered turning “Evidence” off early on because the footage in question had such a slow start. Rachel (Caitlin Stasey) is an obnoxious, wannabe director who is filming the rise of Leann (Torrey DeVitto) in the world of acting. They’re going to Vegas on a bus, which picks up a handful of eccentric strangers who do their best to tolerate this frustrating woman who keeps filming them even after they have expressed displeasure at her doing so. Everything goes wrong when the bus crashes in an apparent sabotage and they find themselves stranded at an abandoned gas station. Then a killer in a welding suit starts picking them off. The characters aren’t very interesting or likable, but at least more effort was put into their dialogue. There are even some genuinely good lines. The acting was significantly better as well. The problem is that the characters tend to get involved in awkward situations, which eat up a lot of screen-time. I was getting bored, actually wishing for the badly made cop drama, until they reach the gas station. Suddenly, I started to get interested. The cinematography, ambiance and setting work together to create feelings of dread, isolation and unease. Now I was getting annoyed when they kept cutting back to the badly made cop drama because this was so much better… Sure, the camerawork was a bit shaky (expected for this genre) and the scare tactics are incredibly manipulative. A character would wander down a creepy, silent hallway, only for a mortally wounded victim to burst through a door so the movie would have a cheap jump scare (apparently he was still and quiet right until she was close enough). But…but…this was tolerable, even a little effective. Hell, the detectives going through the different cameras so we can see the various POV’s (sometimes out of order) was a legitimately clever touch. So…what went wrong?
The characters start to do insanely moronic things in order to make it easier for the killer to pick them off. Two characters choose to break away from the group in order to return to the bus, which is fairly far away IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT so they can find the tools…and provide the killer a convenient opportunity to attack…They know there is a killer prowling out there, but do they choose to hold up in a secure location until it is day? Nope. That would be too sensible.. It becomes even more ridiculous when you learn that two more characters left in order to search for them. Every decision they make is an incredibly dumb one, which is a total contrast to the films so called ‘intelligence’ (more on that soon). The director also makes some baffling mistakes, such as relying on night vision during a lot of the creepier sequences…Maybe it’s just me, but the night vision effect just looks silly. I understand why the characters are using it, but I could never take any of these moments seriously because it looks goofy. But truthfully, none of this damned “Evidence“. I’m a slasher fanboy, so I am used to moronic characters and I’m very aware that those who have seen the film are wondering if I even finished the movie. The night vision bits weren’t even that big of a deal, but it’s the films final twist that embodied everything wrong with “Evidence“. I must spoil the big reveal, so if you don’t want to know what happens, please skip the following paragraph.
“Evidence” has one of those mysteries where you know that the killer won’t be any of the initial suspects. Whomever the cops will suspect are red herrings. However, I had suspected that there were two killers, Leann and her boyfriend. It seemed off that the boyfriend had apparently been killed off-screen and no one mentioned him again after that. I thought “Evidence” was even more obvious with the constant lines referring to the serial killer as ‘he’ or ‘guy’. It seemed like extra emphasis was always being put on his gender, so I figured the killer would obviously be a woman. But it turned out that the boyfriend was innocent and that the heroine who is filming everything was the real murderer! But how? It turns out she edited and manipulated the footage so everything the cops had watched was corrupted. I actually suspected this occasionally thanks to some obvious foreshadowing (“The footage never lies“, “anything can be fixed with editing“, “we should make a movie sometime“), but I gave “Evidence” the benefit of the doubt because there was no way it could be that ridiculous…Except it was…This is a poorly thought out idea because the EXPERTS should be able to pick up on any footage tampering immediately. The big reveal doesn’t help things either, because it’s just the hero noticing the time code isn’t changing after apparently spending hours watching the footage. Derp? Yet according to other characters, he’s this big genius. The killers were kind of stupid to overlook that as well. It’s a good thing the cops were so incompetent, otherwise their plan might’ve failed. I especially love how the final shot is of the girls saying “So remember, if someone is filming you. You might be in the sequel“. I presume if that happens, they won’t be reprising their roles because THEY SHOWED THEIR FACES ACKNOWLEDGING THEIR ACTIONS ON THE NEWS! That is another dumb issue as there is no way the news would show graphic murders on air, BUT EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE NOW YOU STUPID BITCHES! Now they’ll be caught for sure, although their plan would’ve been derailed if the protagonist didn’t moronically release one from custody before the cops even had an idea who the killer was. Ugh, I hate it when a plot only works because the characters don’t use their brains. Am I the only one who thought it was strange that the ‘real life’ scenes involving the detectives felt so phony, whereas the ‘fake’ found footage segments seemed more realistic? Was Osunsanmi trying to be ironic? Once again, that is a constant reminder that I am watching a movie, which destroys the illusion.
I find “Evidence” to be fascinating for the wrong reasons. On one hand you have a screenwriter who thought up some very intriguing ideas, but squandered them on a storyline which only exists because of the unbelievable incompetence of its characters. If he fixed that lingering problem and was more subtle about the delivery of his message, then this could’ve worked. I did admire the attempts at justifying the presence of the camera (something I wish other found footage flicks would do), but none of the other dumb actions were justified. The direction is so inconsistent that I’m convinced that there were actually two directors on the set. Or Maybe Osunsanmi is a pseudonym for Godfrey Ho. The found footage sequences are decent, showcasing a healthy amount of suspense and keeping my interest in spite of the lazy moments of writing. But the rest of the movie is so bad and it looks significantly less cinematic. Why couldn’t they have used the camera from the found footage parts for the rest of the movie? Or is “Evidence” suggesting that the character holding the camera is a better director and cinematographer than the actual director and cinematographer? The differences in quality are too distracting. Osunsanmi is a very experimental filmmaker and I do appreciate his efforts, but said experiments tend to end in failure. Yet that ending is so wild and crazy in its badness that some viewers might think it’s clever. Just remember that the alleged intelligence of “Evidence” is built upon the stupidity of its characters.
Violence: Rated R. It has one really nasty moment that is disturbing the first time we see it, but is comedic when we see it again on a night vision cam.
Overall: “Evidence” sucks, but has an air of self importance that makes the suckiness sting that much more. I’d rate the found footage segments 2-2.5/4 stars, whereas the observer segments get a 1.5/4 star rating…But they work together like piss and fire, so…