Some spoilers below
One of the biggest pet peeves I have with low-budget films of any genre is when the creative team doesn’t understand how to work within their budget. I’m not one to stifle creativity, but sometimes it behooves a crew to know when to scale back on elaborate and expansive ideas and scenes. It’s true that a lack of funds can cause ingenuity that might shape the genre and define the ability of a filmmaker but for every Evil Dead, there’s a dozen films like Evidence that attempt to create a high concept idea (in this case, a twist that, in all honesty, is actually kind of neat) on a dime that comes off as cheap and silly instead of inventive.
Granted, the found-footage genre is known for its shoestring budgets and in the beginning, director Howie Askins embraces that; sadly, this is only while he’s doing fairly unremarkable things. Screenwriter Ryan McCoy stars as Ryan, a self-absorbed film student hell bent on shooting a documentary about his friend Brett (Brett Rosenberg) on their first camping trip. Dragging along a few female friends (Abigail Richie and Ashley Bracken), the group ventures out of L.A. and into the mountains where strange noises and shaking bushes are at every turn. Ryan is blamed for the odd occurrences at first – staging the outing for the sake of his artistry – but an unidentifiable creature in the distance and a run-in with a weapon-toting mountain man is enough to put the group into a state of paranoia as they start to strongly contemplate getting the hell out of Dodge.
The kids are of the generic variety, being comprised of a pompous director, a jock, and two girls who could practically be the same character if it were not for one of them being ever so slightly more outward about their sexuality. McCoy plays his character with the proper amount of narcissism and Rosenberg provides the level-headed reasoning and bravado, but the actresses are given almost nothing to work with and give bland performances in return. It’s a real shame, because the male leads exit the film halfway through and we’re left with two hollow characters that do nothing but scream for forty-five minutes.
The reveal, which involves military involvement and creatures, would be nifty enough to warrant a viewing if it weren’t for director Howie Askins’ decision to show way too much. Schlocky Roger Corman flicks could get away with men in deformed gorilla masks and furry costumes, but that was then and Evidence is happening in the here and now when we should know better. The military conspiracy that comes into play midway through the film is welcome after a generic – but fairly well orchestrated – setup but as the scale becomes larger and the twists and turns become more elaborate, the cheapness becomes as distracting as the ill-used costumes. Locations appear a bit too familiar, costumes (And presumably actors) are used over and over again to make it look like there are more people in the scene than there really are and black trash bags double as hazmat tarp.
There’s a good idea or two at play in Evidence but the level of imagination McCoy and Haskin hopes their audience will have in order to lose themselves in some very unconvincing and poorly orchestrated high-stakes sequences ceased to exist around the time people stopped buying into McCarthyism. If anything, Evidence makes you appreciate the “less is more” approach of found-footage brethren The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity better; at least they don’t have end credits that would throw Gaspar Noe into an epileptic fit.