The Evil Within is an inconspicuous horror film with an inconspicuous horror title. You'd probably scroll past it on a streaming service, waving it off as another forgettable venture into low-quality filmmaking. You would probably not realise that this film was the first and last made by meticulous meth-addict millionaire Andrew Getty, that he collectively spent 15 years and 5 million dollars filming and editing every single frame, or that Getty died in 2015 and the film's post-production was completed by his producers.
Potential cult status aside, The Evil Within is a questionable venture. The story of a young mentally disabled man (a touching turn from Frederick Koehler) pushed to a killing spree by an evil mirror is the kind of dangerously ignorant narrative you expect from much older horror films. Move past that, and you've got a wholly unpredictable narrative which picks up and drops characters will-nilly and treats plot strands in much the same way. Getty's attention span is infant, but his genre love is ravenous; he wants to show us everything about this story, but also keep it shrouded in mystery. He wants to flaunt every single cool idea and surrealist horror image without too much consideration for the sum total. A lot of that could be down to a spontaneous script or the perils of such a long production time.
Even if it's all these things: inconsistent, silly, badly written, over-directed, over-produced, there's something innately watchable about The Evil Within. And it's not just the lure of the behind-the-scenes drama. Getty's cast is a strong one comprised of cult stars like Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints, Saw 3D; The Final Chapter), Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers, Saw 2), Kim Darby (True Grit 1969, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark), David Banks (Doctor Who), and Matthew McCrory (The Devil's Rejects). Not to mention, of course, the genuinely horrifying appearance of genre superstar Michael Berryman, who appears to be the keystone of Getty's passion project. Berryman's shadowy tormentor is one of the few constants in the whole film, helping tie the film's hyperactive narrative together under one constant bogeyman.
But it’s the filmmaking process that's so interesting here. Getty's scares are surprisingly effective because they operate under nightmare logic: they don't quite go as you might expect. The timing of the scares is odd, but the imagery is even odder. Getty's shots are infiltrated by boisterously weird imagery and effects, the barrier between worlds is lifted with amateur charms, like an unfocused Lynchian nightmare. For all its laughable faults, Getty's film is unsettling, brutal, harsh, and gives very few shits about your expectations.
The Evil Within has cult classic was written all over it, wrought backstory aside, it's still a belter of an intriguing project. Getty's swansong is far from cohesive and even further from great, but it's a definite, entrancing curio. Horror fans will appreciate the madcap dedication and that's all that matters.