Philly Fest Report: Evilenko
Oh, poor Malcolm McDowell ... how did he ever get roped into making this? Today was a bit of a down day here: with little jumping off the schedule shouting "Watch me! Watch me!" Canfield and I spent the day poking around Philadelphia a bit with our host and meeting up with a friend who had recently moved into the city before catching our sole screening of the day. David Grieco's Evilenko is based on the true story of a Russian serial killer who hypnotized, raped, killed and ate more than fifty children over a nearly twenty year span. The premise is certainly there for a gripping film as well as a strong lead actor in McDowell but first time writer-director Grieco turns in a film that provoked more than a few unintended laughs thanks to a film filled with ludicrous dialogue and a seemingly endless array of staggeringly flat performaces.
To be fair the film has two things in its favor. It is reasonably well shot and it features a score from frequent David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. But that's where the good things end.
Problems? First, the film doesn't seem to know quite what it wants to be. A character study? A psychological thriller? A police procedural? Grieco's script staggers around between all three without ever really settling on an approach. He wants to horrify us but chooses to keep all of the killings firmly off screen which would be fine if he gave us either a healthy dose of Evilenko's madness in other settings or the impact on those close to the victims, but he gives us neither. He wants to give us the thrill of the chase but the police procedure involves virtually no chasing or much investigation of any sort. A character study? He certainly wants to make the argument that the collapse of communism somehow fueled the killing spree but if the information given is correct and the spree that ended in the very early nineties began nearly twenty years before that means the killings began in the mid seventies when Russian communism was alive and well, so that theory is dead in the water. Rather than choosing an approach and really going for it the film takes little pieces of several and just sort of flounders around.
The larger problem, though, lies in the performances and the dialogue as written. Virtually every performance is completely and utterly hollow. I have never seen a film where everybody is so uniformly flat. Does anybody care about anything that's happening here? If so they certainly don't bother to show it in their expressions or tone of voice. Making things even worse is that Grieco appears to have instructed everyone to speak in some odd sort of non-accent that further flattens things out, plus I am willing to lay down money that pretty much every female character - including the children - has had her lines redubbed by a single other actor. You have ten year olds speaking with adult voices in this film and it's very, very odd. Give us the actual performers' real accents, please.
To be fair to the actors, though, they are given horribly bad dialogue to work with. Every single cliche imaginable is trotted out here and people swing between attempts at period detail and modern phrasings on a whim. Given that the director and one of the lead actors was in the audience for the screening I tried very, very hard to stifle my laughter at the stilted dialogue but I - along with a great many others - finally lost it when, at the end of the film, in mid interrogation, with both police inspector and criminal butt naked in the interrogation room with the entire squad looking on from behind the mirrored glass - and don't even ask how that happened - Marton Csokas' inspector has to yell at McDowell's Evilenko "Look at your prick! Look at it!" Csokas is, of course, holding said prick at the time. What goes through someone's mind when you write a line like that? The acting in the film is quite bad but it is very hard to place the blame on the actors when they are continually forced to mouth ridiculous lines.
The premise here had a lot of potential but Grieco squanders it all with a script that is just nowhere close to being polished enough to film.