SXSW 2016: Another Evil Finds Laughs and Terror Among the Living and the Dead

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Another Evil Finds Laughs and Terror Among the Living and the Dead

It can be difficult differentiating your haunted house movie from the rest of the pack for two reasons. First, there are roughly four hundred of them released every year, and second, they all have to begin in pretty much the same spot with characters in a building of some kind discovering they have ghosts. No one can really do all that much about the first problem – well, the people making the really terrible haunted house movies can stop making them, but the odds of that happening seem slim – but the second? Turns out opening with smart writing and some solid laughs is more than enough to grab and hold viewers’ attention for what’s to come.

Dan (Steve Zissis) and his family have come to their new cabin for a relaxing few days away from the city, but part way through a game of charades they discover someone, or something, else is in the house with them. Mary (Jennifer Irwin) and their son Jazz (Dax Flame) wait downstairs while Dan investigates, but all he finds are some things out of place in his art studio. The encounter increases in intensity that night though when he exits a room to see something terrifying at the top of the stairs.

Mary brings a casual spiritualist (Dan Bakkedahl) in to determine what’s going on, and he tells them it’s just a pair of nice, ambivalent ghosts. Getting rid of them would be “an asshole move” he says, and they should just accept their new tenants as friends. Dan’s having none of that though and instead hires a “straight up ghost assassin” named Os (Mark Proksch) to eliminate the spectral vermin. The architectural cleansing seems to go well at first, but as the hours and days pass Dan realizes he may have unintentionally made the problem far worse.

Writer/director Carson D. Mell has written episodes of both Eastbound & Down and Silicon Valley, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his feature debut, Another Evil, finds room for both absurd comedy and sincere character work. The film moves smoothly between truly frightening beats, laugh out loud dialogue, and some painful observations on a pitiful life, and in doing so it stands well apart from its typical haunted house brethren.

The bulk of the movie is a two-hander with Dan and Os becoming friendly while the latter works to bust ghosts and put the former’s mind at ease. Os is something of a wild man with his cowboy hat and duster concealing the nerdy, foul-mouthed weirdo beneath, and Proksch sells the character with a finely balanced mix of aggression and fragility. He has the tougher role, but Zissis does absolute comedic wonders with the deliciously droll Dan who continually gives Os and others just enough of a push for them to continue rolling with the weird. Everyone here is accepting of the supernatural, but Dan’s resting face is one of resigned bemusement.

“Just because you’re scared doesn’t make it scary,” says Dan’s wife, but while Mell keeps the tone shifting throughout he manages a couple moments worthy of purer horror experiences. There are equally strong comedic beats but not enough to call this a straightforward comedy. The tonal balance grows a bit wobbly in the third act as it tries to keep some of the humor through some very dark turns, but as shaky as it gets Mell and company are able to regain their balance more often than not.

Another Evil opens with a family, a house, and something scary roaming the darkness above them, but it takes that setup in fresh and funny directions while keeping the threat of death in its back pocket. You won’t quite know what to expect, and that’s a good thing. Another Evil is more than just another haunted house movie.

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