Evidence

Evidence

**

Reviewed by: David Graham

Low-budget independent horror has always been both a proving ground and a reliable money-spinner for aspiring young film-makers, but the opportunities for making a mark with the most meagre of means have increased ten-fold in the digital age, nowhere more so than with 'found footage'. Most of the new school of DIY directors have limited themselves to tight locations, single-digit casts and small-scale stories, conventions debutant Howie Askins follows to the letter for most of this latest example of an over-subscribed genre. Evidence does distinguish itself by eventually evolving into something more ambitious, but whether it hits its targets will depend on the audience's tolerance for meta-movie-making schtick and unapologetic ambiguity.

Budding documentary-maker Ryan has coerced his best friend Brett into a camping trip where the latter will be the camera's focus. Their girlfriends Abi and Ashley are along for the ride, but not entirely comfortable being filmed in even the most mundane moments. As the group fall back on booze to pass the time, old resentments rise predictably to the surface. They soon have more to worry about, however, when a growling, prowling creature begins stalking them through the night.

Book-ended by a gratuitously early boob-shot and too-little-too-late head-shot that should at least appease the teenage target audience, Evidence certainly isn't as lazy as its title might suggest (although it is a new low for an already formulaic genre's penchant toward uninspired monikers - see also Tape 407). The slow burn first half works every trick in the low-budget book - squabbling youths you can't wait to get munched, half-glimpsed horrors in rustling bushes, unsettling noises in the middle of the night - but the action takes a brave turn into fleet-footed Rec territory towards the end, with all hell breaking loose as the story's scale expands exponentially.

The sheer energy of the prolonged climax almost papers over its familiarity, but without any clarity whatsoever as to what's actually supposed to be happening, it's hard to care who lives or dies. A videogame-style end credit sequence - complete with fancy HUD and first-person shooter dynamic - looks like it costs more than the rest of the film in its entirety, but fails to shed any light on the plot's murky machinations. It means the ending isn't as annoyingly abrupt as is often the case with these films - in fact it all goes on for so long many will be glad to see the lights come up - but it still smacks of geeky gimmickry rather than involving, coherent film-making.

However, what really hampers the film more than anything is the constant, beyond-cliched amateurishness of the camera-wielding characters and the unforgivably ridiculous decisions they repeatedly make. The conveniently glitchy visuals and bottoming-out sound may be a thinly-veiled and frustrating tactic to try to make events look 'realistic', but are they really excusable when the lead character is meant to be a documentarian? Given Ryan's cack-handed execution and inexplicable choice of subject - it's never clear whether Brett is famous or just a sucker for his pal's hobby - Werner Herzog won't be losing any sleep.

As the group find themselves pursued by an unidentifiable threat, they frequently abandon the relative safety of confined spaces to run headlong and screaming into the darkness away from each other; the only thing that's more irritating is that they often manage to find each other again. Any mystery Askins may have hoped to generate through his locations is scuppered through their complete lack of atmosphere, while the tension his less-is-more approach initially builds is eventually thrown out of the window in favor of go-for-broke mania. Throughout it all, the requisite nausea-inducing camerawork and ear-piercing shrieking will have you wishing this was one found footage flick that had stayed lost.

The acting is slightly above-average for this kind of schlock, even if the characters aren't likable enough or their improvisation particularly memorable. The sound design and Askin's handling of the central menace are economical but confident, if not exactly ground-breaking. On the whole though, this is hard to recommend to anyone other than easily-pleased youngsters who can't wait for Paranormal Activity 4, or horror buffs with a particularly masochistic streak. On this Evidence, it might be time to bury the Blair Witch fad once and for all.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2012
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A found-footage film about a group of young people making documentary in the Los Angeles canyons and encountering something primitive and terrible.
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Director: Howie Askins

Starring: Abigail Richie, Ashley Bracken, Brett Rosenberg, Ryan McCoy, Keith Lewis

Year: 2011

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2012

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