If it wasn’t for the genre, manner of release and bizarre production history of The Evil Within, Frederick Koehler might well have been looking at Dustin Hoffman-sized awards for his performance as Dennis, the young, mentally challenged man whose dreams persuade his waking self into becoming a killer. But Andrew Getty’s only film is such a strange story in itself; it probably won’t receive a quarter of the attention and plaudits it very likely deserves.
“Very likely”, because reclusive oil heir Getty’s fifteen-year project (of which Getty himself only survived thirteen; he died in 2015) is enough of a mess to betray itself as the work of an amateur. Conversely, it’s one of the most lavishly produced and expensive-looking horror films of recent years; the final budget, entirely out of Getty’s pocket, is thought to be $4m, almost bankrupting him. It is, unquestionably, worth seeking out and experiencing first-hand.
The premise is barely worth mentioning. Dennis shares a house with his brother John (Flanery, giving a forgivably slightly disjointed performance), whose girlfriend Lydia (Meyer, looking unsurprisingly barely any older than she did in 1997’s Starship Troopers) is trying to persuade him to have Dennis committed in order that John might have something resembling a normal life. But the gift of an antique mirror proves the undoing of all, bringing Dennis’ inner demons vividly and homicidally to life in the form of The Hills Haves Eyes’ Michael Berryman.
The Evil Within was filmed across five years beginning in 2002, Getty’s self-penned and self-directed attempt to reproduce and perhaps understand his own nightmares. Subsequent to wrapping on the principal photography, Getty spent the rest of his life on the post-production, creating a lucidly hallucinogenic universe out of both digital and actual effects, such that it’s virtually impossible at times to tell what is meant to be real or imaginary – an approach signalled by a very effective prologue. If these were genuinely Getty’s dreams, it’s easy to see why he was so obsessed with recreating them.
The fantastical landscape of the film is also forgiving of its flaws, as any shortcomings in the script or direction simply feed into the sense of things being not as they should be. Badly drawn characters and minor illogicality’s feel a natural part of the story rather than issues of Getty’s inexperience, but elsewhere he’s put enough thought and effort into his project to thoroughly mark it out as both original and substantial. The sequences of Dennis talking to himself in his mirrors are very simply, but also very chillingly and convincingly mounted. Koehler, here and elsewhere, is simply stunning.
Sadly the disc is presented with no extras or background material documenting the film’s production, but fans of psychological horrors and symbolism in cinema will have no end of fun unpicking the dreams within dreams and puppetry allusions. In a beautifully sharp print that presents Getty’s nightmares as cleanly and unforgettably as he would have intended, this Blu-ray is a must-buy to be revisited again and again.
THE EVIL WITHIN / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ANDREW GETTY / SCREENPLAY: ANDREW GETTY / STARRING: FREDERICK KOEHLER, SEAN PATRICK FLANERY, DINA MEYER, BRIANNA BROWN, MICHAEL BERRYMAN / RELEASE DATE: 4TH SEPTEMBER