As any of the scriptwriters working on American network TV late-night chat shows will attest, the actions of the current controversial and politically divisive occupant of the White House are an endless source of material for parody, satire and derision. The monologues of many of these shows’ hosts are tinged with revulsion and anger at the policies and personality of the 45th president of the USA.
The makers of new comedy-horror President Evil are equally unimpressed by the calibre of Donald Trump, using the context of his presidency as the setting for a Halloween-inspired slasher in which the Michael Myers-esque killer wears a Trump mask and dispatches his victims with a knife emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes.
This low-budget indie flick is an affectionate and knowing homage to the tropes of the horror slasher, blended with a very forthright political polemic about the nature of politics and of citizenship in contemporary America. The creators evidently know a lot about horror filmmaking and about issues of social and economic justice, and are equally passionate about both.
Events begin on 4th November 1980, the day Republican candidate Ronald Reagan won the presidency for the first time. Socialite Scorchy McDaniels is enjoying another debauched evening at home while her alienated young son David looks on fuming with rage. After he picks up a knife and a Ronald Reagan mask and exacts bloody retribution, he is locked up in a sanatorium. Thirty eight years later, the adult David escapes from the facility and begins a reign of terror. Keeping his Republican sympathies up to date, David now dresses as Trump and sports a full-face Trump mask.
David is not a random killer. As parodies of Trump’s speeches burble from the radio and TV in the background, David targets particular social groups: women, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, young Muslims and members of minority groups in American society. Colluding with this murderous mayhem is the mysterious Dr Lutin, a Russian physician, who has a plan to transform the already-ruthless David into an unstoppable emissary of darkness through the power of a satanic ritual.
The heroes of the piece are the young and feisty Lana and her friends, her brother Gabriel, recently returned from an army tour of Afghanistan, and the “lawman with a conscience” Sheriff Mueller who takes Lana’s concerns about the threat David poses seriously. This is an ensemble of characters that is consciously inclusive in nature, attempting to represent those who have been on the sharpest receiving end of recent presidential policies.
At its strongest, President Evil succeeds in its ambitions in two key areas. For a small budget movie, there are some decent production values on screen (although sound quality could be better), and the director and cast handle the stalk-and-slash set pieces with an impressive assuredness. The best of the political satire on show is just as effective: the sudden appearance of a seemingly unassailable wall that blocks the path of a fleeing victim is a very effective (and politically pertinent) gag; a montage of happy memories of playful fun times shared by a bare-chested Lutin and David is even funnier; and there’s a satisfying punch-the-air finale.
Yet while it’s clear that the killer is not supposed to be Trump (just someone who wears a Trump mask), this framing device muddies the presidential metaphor that the filmmakers are so keen to explore. Some of the film’s dialogue and characterisation is a little over-earnest at times, and there are many events from the first half of the president’s term of office, and many significant players in the Trump story, that are ripe for ridicule or condemnation which go unremarked.
Humourless cheerleaders for Donald Trump are not going to enjoy anything about this movie. Those of a more open-minded disposition, or those with different political affiliations or none, might find more to recommend in the commitment and enthusiasm of this highly motivated team of filmmakers. As for the current White House resident, there’s little doubt that he’d dismiss all positive appraisals of this movie as “fake reviews”.
PRESIDENT EVIL / CERT: UNRATED / DIRECTOR: RICHARD LOWRY / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD LOWRY, GREGORY P. WOLK / STARRING: JOSE ROSETE, SITARA ATTAIE, KORBIN MILES, LYS PEREZ, AMBER BOONE, JACOB JORGENSEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW