The physical and psychological trauma that soldiers can suffer from the horrors of the battlefield has been a perennial feature of modern cinema. Face Of Evil takes this familiar premise and blends it with the no less common setting of an impending zombie apocalypse triggered by an unstoppable virus.
Soldier Jay (Scott Baxter) returns home from the front line in time for a reunion with a group of old friends (and an old flame), celebrating American Independence Day on July 4th. Jay is clearly discomforted by the fact that his buddies appear to have enjoyed “lunching out” and getting high while he has been on military deployment abroad and risking everything. After a make-out session with a former girlfriend ends with him fighting for his life, Jay quickly finds himself adrift in a nightmare world in which associates turn into monsters and he is forced to take up arms to defend himself once more.
Things move through a series of brief encounters in edge-of-surreal settings with abnormal and hyper-real characters, any one of which may suddenly morph into a crazed, undead killer. Jay learns that the virus is the results of a military experiment gone wrong (no marks for originality there), and that those serving in the armed forces have all been inoculated.
After Jay hooks up with the conspiracy-spouting Sarge (Chad Bishop), the story relocates to the city, as the pair search for the doctor Sarge insists can explain the full truth of the calamity. Cruising the neon-lit, night-time city streets as observers of hostile urban spaces, there’s a heightened sense of our protagonists’ alienation and separation from the world around them.
As the story unfolds, the rules of infection and transformation don’t appear to be being adhered to consistently. But it becomes clear that this is not the result of shortcomings in the script but of a major twist in the narrative, which lays the basis for the film’s spirited finale.
As in many an indie-flick, performance quality from the small cast is uneven. Jamie Bernadette is wasted in the thankless “sister to the hero” role, and while Baxter’s portrayal of PTSD-suffering Jay is not the most textured or nuanced, he makes for a good “everyman in a crisis”. As the unhinged Sarge, Bishop delivers the best performance of the piece (although his is far and away the best part on offer).
The film is most effective in its realisation of a “normal” world on the verge of unravelling. Director and writer Vito Dinatolo is unsparing in his use of weird camera angles, strange lighting, wide lens shots and unusual framing to communicate the idea of something amiss in the everyday.
This debut feature from Dinatolo is clearly a labour of love, and there’s much to recommend in how he structures, frames and paces his script on screen, especially after the less-than-riveting homecoming scenes have been dispensed with. It’s far from perfect, but it’s great to see a low-budget z-flick with the confidence to rely more on ideas and atmosphere than on flesh-chomping gore.
FACE OF EVIL / DIRECTOR: VITO DINATOLO / SCREENPLAY: VITO DINATOLO / STARRING: SCOTT BAXTER, CHAD BISHOP, JAMIE BERNADETTE, JANET ROTH, JAMES HUTCHINSON, CHRISTOPHER THORPE / CERT: TBC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW