The second feature from director Martin (L.A. Slasher) Owen titled Let’s Be Evil mixes horror, evil kids and sci-fi into an interesting, stylistic blend rich with color and focused on character. In many cases, the experimental approach Owen takes with the film works in interesting and fascinating ways. The color pallet is rich. And the emotional distance he creates between the kids and the adults is unnerving. However, some of the choices woth other elements of the story undermine the motivation and pacing of the film. The character of Arial, a virtual reality guide and tutor, serves to drive a wedge between the story and the audience. While it serves to illustrate the cold nature of the program in which Jenny (Elizabeth Morris), Tiggs (Kara Tointon) and Darby (Eliot James Langridge) enter to assist in studying a small collection of highly intelligent children, it also alienates the audience. Much like Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned and their ilk, the film concentrates on the adults struggling to relate with the kids who all but ignore their involvement. A fascinating fear to toy around with but one that requires a clear understanding of the consequences. Let’s Be Evil generalizes those consequences to the point of mediocrity lessening the impact of the message and the cinematic technique. The results may be a misfire but not without merit and good intent.
Jenny is searching for a stable job, one that will help pay for the bills taking care of her family. She gets a shady but irresistible offer from the Posterity Project. The project is so hush hush, she has problems getting the receptionist to even acknowledge its existence. Eventually she is granted access and meets with two others in the same program, Tiggs and Darby. Soon they discover they are to assist monitoring and recording the progress of a group of highly intelligent children learning skills far beyond their years. The program is run by unseen individuals with the help of virtual reality glasses. Social skills are not on the menu. Everything is cold, calculated and distant. While the children prosper, the adults struggle in their new environment. That is until one of the children, Cassandra (Isabelle Allen) breaks ranks and manipulates Arial in altering the programs plans.
The script from star Elizabeth Morris, Johnathan Willis and director Martin Owen is rife with interesting and thought-provoking ideas – as any good science fiction film should be. It incorporates VR technology and A.I. software in a way that can be both fascinating and frightening. What this technology offers is overwhelming. The changes it bring along with that technology can be alarming, especially if you mix in healthy doses of conspiracy and subterfuge. The deeper Jenny and her friends dig into what is really going on with the Posterity Project, the more anxious they become and the more they ignite the ramifications of Arial’s deviations from her programming. Add to this, what is more frightening in fearing what our children will become. The film, much like Village of the Damned (1960), explores the concept of a giant leap in intelligence between one generation. All the various technologies merge into a virtual nightmare as Jenny, Tiggs and Darby struggle to survive.
Much of the film is isolated in an underground cement wall setting. The film allows the artificial light and the sensation of manufactured air supply breathe a foreign atmosphere into what many audience members may face each and every day at their jobs – except here there is no sunshine, not even on the lunch break or drive home. Martin Owen permeates the film with this cold architecture and tone. Even the children are drawn in a similar manner. In a enclosed scenario informed by their interaction with a virtual reality headset, instead of seeing anything brilliant or vibrant from the world they left behind the characters are left to seeing data and information in the most direct means. While this is informative to the story and the theme, it does not necessarily make for the most engaging cinema. The dreary, claustrophobic approach diminishes the nature of the technology to which it speaks. It is all mundane and heartless, to which is the film’s point.
Martin Owen brings what he can to the drab world, mostly in the form of Arial, a virtual presence that allows the characters to request information or keep tabs on the children or each other. And sometimes interact with it in conversation or inquiry. Arial begins as a disembodied voice but later achieves a virtual form to appear as a character alongside the cast. In some respects this cheapens the character and its influence. It also feels too similar to other approaches to this kind of virtual program orientated character – think Resident Evil – which only serves to telegraph Arial’s story and her actions. The film fails to generate a strong enough conflict to elevate the tension or excitement.
Let’s Be Evil sets up a in interesting, engaging story and world for it to live within. However, the story falls victim to familiar tropes to virtual reality and children growing far more intelligent than their parents. Both of these topics are ripe for tackling, the generation gap remains a significant unknown and VR technology threatens to reshape the world in the coming years. The problem is the film asks questions other films have already answered – some of those movies years ago without the need for the technology to enhance the fears and the unknown. The actors do their best with the material even if Kara Tointon and Eliot James Langridge seem more adept to the yet to be filmed next chapter of Friday the 13th. Isabelle Allen portrays the leader of the children with a cold demeanor appropriate for the character. She sells the distant, cold and calculated nature of this group and gives life to the actualization of the fears the “adult” characters have about her and her mates. Elizabeth Morris seems most comfortable with the material, given she is a co-writer this seems fair. She saves the material from falling to far into rote territory giving the film a character to root for and enjoy. Director Martin Owen illustrate a solid handling of the material itself with technical prowess and confidence. In the end, the familiar tone and themes of Let’s Be Evil make the title more of a mild suggestion than a genuine threat.
Let’s Be Evil (2.3 / 5)
Available on VOD and select theaters beginning August 5 from IFC Midnight films.