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With the fear of technology long being fodder for screenwriters, finding innovate ways to make them seem more terrifying or dangerous have left the more creative ones generating unique stories that have come to define the genre. As a persistent, believable virtual reality looms ever more possible, filmmakers are taking advantage of both the prospect and current computer-generated imagery technology to produce often unnerving stories that suggests our pursuit of greater reliance on computers and such are a mistake. With Let’s Be Evil, we witness such a story, and while there are some very clever moments, it can’t quite live up to expectation.
We meet Jenny (Elizabeth Morris – who co-wrote the story), a young woman struggling to pay for her mother’s in-home medical care. She decides to take a position at a highly secretive and mysterious program that she knows little about, but will be working as a chaperone for a new children’s education program for gifted students. When she arrives, she learns it is housed in a deep underground facility and can only be “seen” by wearing specially-designed VR glasses that render the wearer sightless if not worn.
She is joined by two other chaperones, Darby (Elliot James Langridge), a high IQ young man with a cocky, rebellious attitude and Tiggs (Kara Tointon), a women very much like Jenny. They soon discover they are charged with watching a group of young children, all of whom are learning through VR technology at genius levels. They don’t speak and barely register the adult’s presence. The three are there simply to assist in keeping the children physically safe. Jenny and the others are in communication only with a voice they hear through their VR glasses, and who occasionally appears in a digitized female form. Her name is Ariel (Jamie Bernadette) and she seems helpful, answering questions and offering support. But when Jenny makes a connection with one of the children and begins to see things that shouldn’t be, she suspects things are not what they seem.
Co-written and directed by Martin Owen, Let’s Be Evil is a purposefully claustrophobic film shot nearly entirely in first-person POV as if in a VR simulation. That means much of the film is layered in tones of neon reds, blues and greens, with long stretches seen only through the eyes of Jenny as if she were wearing a camera on her head (in fact it is the glasses in the story). This certainly lends itself some investment in the premise as we are meant to feel as if in Jenny’s shoes, but it does test the viewer’s commitment. Owen handles the action well and keeps a brisk pace, occasionally finding some creativity given the limited setting, but the gimmick, while perhaps visually appealing for a time, limits our view of Jenny, leaving her mostly a disembodied voice much like Ariel. We can’t really connect with her as much as we’d like.
The other issue is the central menace (or lack thereof) of the plot, which I won’t spoil but should come as no surprise. Either way, a solution to ending it seems rather easy given some simple rules of physics. Big things versus small things mostly means big things win, and while the film attempts to address this with its final twist, that pay-off itself, while visually satisfying, leaves questions about the setup at the start. Be that as it may, the film is often tense and compelling, despite some lapses in the script that settles on exposition through dialogue far too much.
The biggest problem though is its complete lack of humor and persistent habit of taking itself too seriously. This is most evident in its score, which is gloriously and thunderously epic (by Julian Scherle), but better suited to a blockbuster battle movie than a small cast of people stuck in three rooms and a corridor. It roars to life with the smallest of action and while it is really good music (adopting the current 80s synth trend), is far too ambitious for the tone of the film, which would have benefited from silence rather than pounding cinematic chords.
That all said, there’s a lot of promise here and for what was surely a limited budget, Owen does an admirable job. He has a good vision and delivers a mostly solid story that buckles under scrutiny but for an indie sci-fi thriller, is worth a look.
Movie description: Let's Be Evil is a 2016 horror-thriller about a young woman who signs up to chaperone an experimental augmented-reality learning program but gets far more than she expected.
Director(s): Martin Owen
Actor(s): Isabelle Allen, Kara Tointon, Jamie Bernadette