Evidence (2011) Movie Review: The Truth is Not Out There
For as much of a novelty as they seem to be, "found footage" horror movies require the usage of certain storytelling and filmmaking devices to make them effective. In that sense, they're like any other movie: They must manipulate the audience in order to elicit certain emotional responses without the audience actively noticing that the manipulation is taking place. Well-made found footage movies are works of quality cinema in their own right, because it takes a lot of talent to make footage that looks rough and unscripted on its surface be so compelling.
In the case of Evidence (2011), there's enough talent on display to keep you watching but it never assembles its plot threads into a coherent enough whole to make it satisfying or memorable. Read on for my complete review, which contains minor spoilers.
Evidence is about four young adults who take a weekend camping trip in the woods. One of the adults, Ryan (Ryan McCoy) is using the trip as an opportunity to collect footage for a documentary about his friend Brett (Brett Rosenberg) and his first experience with camping. As the trip continues, the four campers soon realize that they are not alone and what starts out as a weekend getaway quickly escalates into a fatal nightmare.
As found footage films go, Evidence keeps your attention by having talented enough actors play the main characters and by making sure that the video footage is unprofessional enough to qualify as "found footage" but not unbearable to watch. (If you've sat through a few poorly shot home videos, you'll know how unwatchable amateur footage can be.) For what special effects there are, they are effective and convey the illusion that they are part of the found footage. Where Evidence fails is in its inability to create and sustain a mood of intrigue and dread.
Well-made horror films require fans to use their imagination when providing scares, because imagination is necessary to make the artificially-induced fears palpable. Because of its stylistic limitations (no background music, limited or no special effects, etc.), found footage horror films must engage the audiences' imaginations in ways that other horror films don't. This is often done be providing background details about the subject of horror before the horror itself is directly encountered by the protagonists. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity had their characters discuss related supernatural accounts and details early in the narrative so that viewers can use their imaginations to envision what is responsible for the strange events that happen later and are caught on the grainy, somewhat unfocused footage (e.g., what is making the strange noises during the night, what is causing objects to move by themselves, etc.).
Further prompting the viewers' imaginations are the characters themselves. The curiosity of the protagonists encourages the viewers' own curiosity, even if it's obvious that such curiosity will lead to the characters' own vague demises. Other horror films can get away with disinterested characters (they make for great monster chow), but disinterested characters in a found footage movie can evoke a similar disinterest among viewers.
Evidence hinders its narrative momentum from the beginning by making Ryan's efforts to make a documentary about Brett's first camping experience as self-centered and unfocused as possible. The footage in the early, pre-horror parts of film suggests that Ryan isn’t very serious in his effort to make a documentary, nor does it indicate that he has any genuine interest in his documentary's subject. Naturally, the other characters--Brett, Abi (Abigail Richie) and Ashley (Ashley Bracken)--quickly become irritated with Ryan, which leaves viewers with characters who aren't very engaging and a contrived situation that serves no other reason than to 1) put the characters in danger and 2) have a camera present at all times to cover said danger. It also doesn't help that when the scares finally begin to happen, they having nothing to do with Brett's experience with camping or lack thereof, which further calls into question the film's narrative approach.
(On the other hand, if Evidence revealed that Brett actually had ample amounts of camping experience and he was just using Ryan's vanity to lure his friends into a deadly game of backwoods cat-and-mouse--that would've made for an interesting and unique found footage movie.)
The movie picks up a bit when the scary stuff begins, but that too remains ill-defined--in a bad way. The scares seem to originate from a gorilla-like creature that makes eerie howling noises and attacks in a direct, brutal fashion. These scenes suggested to me that the monster is some kind of "Skunk Ape", which gave Evidence a Blair Witch-meets-Bigfoot vibe. Yet as the final act of the movie shows, the actual source of the horror is more complex than that, although its exact connection to the ape monster remains unexplained. (Hint: If you've seen The Crazies, 28 Days Later or Quarantine, you'll know what to expect in the film's later half.) The final scenes of Evidence explode with all kinds of disturbing imagery and jump scares, but there's no anticipation building up to it. The end credits provide some additional footage, but none of it will help you better understand what you just saw.
I think the true source of the horror in Evidence has plenty of frightening possibilities (some of which are seen fleetingly), but the filmmakers do nothing to build the suspense leading up to its reveal or to prompt us into connecting the film's clues together in our imaginations into a comprehensible whole. It almost seems as if the ape monster attacks were thrown into the movie both as a misdirection and to compensate for the film's lack of suspense, not to add any kind of plot insight.
When seeing a found footage horror movie, one important question needs to be asked to determine its overall quality: Was it effective as a found footage movie, or would it have been better had it been shot as a standard horror movie? The problem with Evidence is that its makers didn't know how to construct a plot that uses the found footage approach to build tension, so they resorted to jump scares instead. The end result is a movie that's mediocre, regardless of its style. Still, if barrages of jump scares are a requirement in your found footage film viewings, then you might want to give Evidence a look.