'Another Evil': Film Review

Courtesy of SXSW
Chuckles and cringes don't add up to a memorable horror comedy.

Ghosts in the house may be less trouble than a live-in exorcist.

One of the straightest horror comedies yet from this generation of indie filmmakers, Another Evil introduces a family whose house is haunted and suggests getting rid of the ghosts might be more trouble than it's worth. The feature directing/writing debut for Carson Mell, the pic relies almost entirely on the subtle comic gifts of its two leads, finding little in the way of plot to kick its characters into laugh-generating action. Fest response should be friendly, but its most likely home is video.

Dan (frequent Duplass Brothers collaborator Steve Zissis) is a successful painter who finds that his weekend home in the mountains is haunted. Though the first spiritualist he hires (a slovenly Dan Bakkedahl) claims the two resident poltergeists "are actually kinda cool" and "it's not something that needs to be fixed," Dan is understandably unconvinced. So while his wife and son are back home in the Bay Area, he hires another expert.

It's surprising how easy it is to find paranormal professionals here; Dan and his wife discuss how to proceed as if they're evaluating bids for a possible roof repair. Though they agree to hold off on any action, Dan secretly hires the new "ghost assassin" Os (Mark Proksch, memorable from his turn on Better Call Saul) to move in for the week and trap the ghosts. He'll regret it soon enough.

The fluctuating comfort level between these two men, not any poltergeisty shenanigans, gives the movie what appeal it has. Dan is laid back enough to at first accept Os' attempts at bonding, even when he seems to be assuming they're much closer friends than they reasonably could be at this point. Sudden intimacy aside, how should a homeowner react when he gets up earlier than usual and finds a man standing naked in his living room, ostensibly because he needs all his skin exposed to feel paranormal activity? It's enough to make anybody mount a fake resolution, claiming everything's back to normal and the contractor should go home.

Os doesn't go home, and the movie veers into darker obsessive-friend territory, threatening not just Dan but his family. Though consistent with the action leading up to this shift, the third-act jeopardy isn't intriguingly twisted enough to make up for the sudden absence of laughs. Several horror-inflected indies in recent years have taken a more artful shot at this neither-this-nor-that format, but in its direction and production values Another Evil encourages us to expect more familiar genre satisfactions. In a quick appearance near the end, one of the house's "kinda-cool" haunters is the only character who understands that.

Venue: BAMcinemaFest
Production company: Memory
Cast: Steve Zissis, Mark Proksch, Jennifer Irwin, Dax Flame, Dan Bakkedahl
Director-screenwriter: Carson Mell
Producers: Sebastian Pardo, Riel Roch-Decter
Director of photography: Drew Bienemann
Production designer: Megan Fenton, Ashley Fenton
Costume designer: Elizabeth Warn
Editor: Alex O'Flinn
Composer: White Dove
Sales: Bec Smith, UTA

Not rated, 90 minutes