Director: Howie Askins
Starring: Ryan McCoy, Brett Rosenberg, Abigail Richie, Ashley Bracken
Released: 12h March 2012
Four friends get off into the wilderness for a weekend. One of the party, Ryan, has brought a camera with the intent of making a documentary about his friend Brett's first experience of camping in the great outdoors. However when eerie howls and shrieks are heard after the sun goes down, and strange shapes are prowling the woods, the phrase 'getting away from it all' begins to take on an entirely different meaning...
Of all the many different and varied strains of cinema, none polarise opinion quite as much as the found footage genre. Some applaud this strand of film-making as offering low budget movie directors a medium in which to tell stories that cut away the distancing gloss of over production and masses of CG shots, and spin intimate tales that increasingly mimic the way we document our own lives with smartphone cameras and social media. However on the other side of the fence, it's also said that found footage films are just an excuse to pass off blurry footage of teens dashing about in the dark as cinema, and that the only visceral thrill the genre is capable of inducing is motion sickness.
This debate is perfectly crystallised in that doyen of the found footage genre, The Blair Witch Project, a movie that people either love with a passion or loathe with a vengeance. And indeed the shadow of that seminal movie hangs heavily over Evidence, the latest entry into the found footage canon. And the opening synopsis above may well have you thinking that this film is nothing more than another retread of the same territory haunted by the Blair Witch.
Certainly the opening act may well lead you to believe that Evidence is nothing more that an outright rip-off of The Blair Witch Project. We have a band of not-so happy campers, strange noises at night, mounting evidence that they are not alone in the wilderness and an asshole character who refuses to abandon the trip in order to carry on making the documentary. Indeed the only significant difference is that this bunch of twentysomethings are a lot more photogenic than the three students of Blair Witch, with one of the young ladies in our merry band upping the eye candy count with some breast flashing and sporting very short shorts.
However all this echoing of the granddaddy of the modern found footage boom is a deliberate ploy on the part of director Howie Askins and not merely creative bankruptcy. For after thirty minutes of so of events playing out exactly as you'd expect them to, Evidence not only dramatically shifts gears but heads into very different cinematic terrain. It's dynamic, energetic and totally unexpected. And the film keeps on twisting and turning and ramping up the pace right until the end of the credits.
Now obviously I'm not going to spoil the fascinating direction Askins takes the story into, however I will stress again that this is far more than a cheap copy of The Blair Witch Project and strongly advise viewers to stick with it until the pivotal gear change. Evidence is quite a short movie, clocking in at a mere seventy-six minutes, however thanks to the accelerating assault of the second half it feels far longer. And that in itself is a good indicator of how effectively the movie will grab you, transforming from what appears to be one of the more derivative found footage movies of recent years into one of the most startling.
And in addition to going completely berserk in its second half, Evidence also avoids two of the big bugbears of the footage footage genre. Firstly instead of having one character welded to the camera, thus making it obvious who is going to survive until the end, in this film the camcorder is handled by several of the cast members at different points. And secondly, we actually do get to see, sometimes in graphic detail, what is actually going on. And furthermore, as the film progresses there is a proper rationale given for why the characters are filming this footage rather than doing the sensible thing and just legging it. Askins strikes a good balance of showing the audience enough but without having the cast slow down and stop to shoot in a way that breaks the momentum or the logic of the situation.
However all that said, Evidence is not going to be to everyone's tastes. For example, if you cannot stand the shaky cam antics inherent in found footage flicks, the barrage of panicked camera work here will drive you up the wall and it's definitely a film to avoid for those susceptible to motion sickness. Also it has to be said that Evidence is a film that leaves you with questions; there is a narrative here, but you have to piece it together yourself. Now some will find this style of storytelling to be one of the movie's strengths, enjoying the process of filling in the blanks as the action unfolds, whereas others will find the lack of the usual exposition irritating in the extreme.
But with those caveats in place, I would highly recommend seeking Evidence. Not only is it a solid entry into the found footage genre, but the cunning mid-point swerve Askins and co. pull off is a real joy to experience and it's very rare for a movie to deliver so many shocks and surprises. Indeed for those who can get onboard with this movie, you may well come out the other side hailing it as one of the best found footage flicks of recent years.