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M.I.A. A Greater Evil (2017) Review

It's back to Vietnam in this thriller about those left behind.

M.I.A. A Greater Evil is a 2017 adventure film about a group of American college students who embark on an expedition looking for gold in the war-torn jungles of Vietnam.

The war in Vietnam remains a troubling era in American history with the controversial issue of POW/MIAs still a divisive matter that has long been labelled a conspiracy by those who believe both governments have worked to hide the fact that soldiers were abandoned or imprisoned. This theory lies at the heart of Abishek J. Bajaj‘s film M.I.A. A Greater Evil where perhaps there are secrets still hidden in the jungles. 

Decades after the war in Vietnam, three college students and their professor travel to Laos to pan for lost French gold in the winding rivers of the dense forests. Professor Steve (Lamou Vissay) is the group leader, along with Rachel (Sarah Ball), a student he is dating, Anita (Valerie Bentson), a young out-doorsey woman, and Jez (Mark Matula), a young man suffering bi-polar disorder who has decided on this trip to stay off his meds. When they get lost after going over some particularly rough rapids that toss them right out of their raft, they end up lost in the jungle, though it’s not long before they realize they are not alone, a greater evil might be hunting them.

If there’s anything going for M.I.A. A Greater Evil, it’s its ambition, a film that has plenty of intriguing ideas, even if its budget limits its scope. In a time when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dominate contemporary military movies (KONG: Skull Island maybe an exception), there’s something to be said about going back to Vietnam, even if the war itself is mostly left to the peripheral and the story focuses on the idea that the jungle is home to the spirits of those left behind. It’s not a horror movie, though it strives to have a spectral dark presence watching over the group like a monster in the dark. It’s even given a POV with blood-red tinting. They are met by a strange man who calls himself The Guide (Sahajak Boonthanakit), warning them that they should not be here, seemingly having a special connection to Anita, whose grandfather was shot down during the war. We learn too that Rachel’s got family with a past linked to the conflict as well. It all gets out of hand though when Jez, unstable by his lack of medication, makes a fateful choice with a secret gun he’s brought with him. 

M.I.A. A Greater Evil
M.I.A. A Greater Evil, 2017 © 89 Dreams

The larger message of M.I.A. A Greater Evil, is never too far from the surface and at 86 minutes, it clicks along with rarely a slow moment, even as it depends mostly on dialogue to keep it moving. These are all mostly unseasoned actors in their debuts and as such, there are some stiff exchanges that don’t always connect or convince, despite some energetic efforts. Benston comes off best, embracing the character and story most effectively, finding the right tone throughout. Kudos goes to Bajaj as well for some solid direction and lots of good looking imagery. The jungle has great presence and feels authentic throughout (it was filmed in Thailand). This is clearly a labor of love for the filmmaker.

M.I.A. A Greater Evil might not be too hard to predict once things get going though it works hard to get to its mystical and surprisingly emotive finale. This is an earnest film that employs a few well-tread tropes to good use, deviating from expectations the closer it gets to its well-earned end. 

M.I.A. A Greater Evil (2017) Review

Movie description: M.I.A. A Greater Evil is a 2017 adventure film about a group of American college students who embark on an expedition looking for gold in the war-torn jungles of Vietnam.

Director(s): Abishek J. Bajaj

Actor(s): Valerie Bentson, Lamou Vissay, Sarah Ball

Genre: Thriller

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