Movie Review: "The Evil Down the Street" (2019)
“Does Mom seem okay to you?” It’s an innocuous line, but the question has a potential for menace that can’t be denied. We’ve all been there, right? Someone you love is behaving oddly- irrational outbursts, mood swings, and out of character hostility. There are any number of reasons for that sort of thing- rational, grounded reasons.
What if Mom had no recollection of middle of the night encounters? You’d probably be a bit more alarmed. Maybe there’s a serious mental issue to be considered. Maybe she’s losing her marbles. Still…
Let’s say there’s a Ouija board that was found in the basement. Let’s further say it was the same basement where the original owner died. Let’s say the previous owner is in a state-run mental hospital after her time with the aforementioned Ouija board. Well, that’s a little different ballgame. Mental problems are starting to look pretty cheery by comparison. This is the premise that The Evil Down the Street operates under.
Michael Ryan (Kelton Jones; Dry Blood) and his wife, Katie (Alena Gerard; Impossible) have just moved their daughters, Kristen (Tara Milante; The Uprising) and Maddy (Sophia Sparks; Godzilla: King of the Monsters), into a lovely home in an upscale neighborhood. Almost immediately, Katie’s behavior changes. She’s up and down, snapping seemingly between personalities at a moment’s notice. The children are increasingly alarmed, and Michael doesn’t know what to do. The friendly next-door neighbor, Bill (writer Craig Ahrens; Adrenochrome) leads him to terrifying revelations and the helpful aid of Father Bob (writer/director David J. Espinosa), who seeks to remove the demon that has attached itself to Katie before it’s too late.
The Evil Down the Street is truthfully marketed as “inspired by true events”. That’s always a dicey proposition in Hollywood; you can’t be sure what the distance between what you’re seeing and the real story is. In this case, the family affected wanted the story faithfully told and stayed away from any notoriety. That shows from the get-go in an almost remarkable level of restraint, and you should know what you’re in for to appreciate what Ahrens and Espinosa have done here.
You won’t be getting spinning heads or split pea soup misadventures. You won’t confuse it with Paranormal Activity or The Conjuring. The real horror of the situation is what happened to the family and how they had to fight to keep it all together. The Evil Down the Street is more of a family drama with the trappings of horror. There are some effective shots and moments (such as Katie’s late night basement exploits) that are well set up and work to perfection. Alena Gerard is the centerpiece as Katie, changing faces at the drop of a hat and putting in serious work. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s exceptionally easy on the eyes. Her interplay with the eerily peaceful Father Bob is fun to watch.
Despite the polished look and skilled cinematography, there are some glaring issues as well. A stronger score would’ve benefited the film as a whole, and the chemistry isn’t always there between Dad and the kids. Also, that restraint that keeps the film honest to its roots will be off-putting to those who want the horror to stand loud and proud.
The Evil Down the Street is horror-light. There’s nothing wrong with that; horror, after all, comes in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. There’s still more than enough to keep you invested throughout the 97-minute runtime once the first third gives way to the more evenly paced and less rushed middle third and the strong (and surprisingly positive) finish. It’s also a great example of both the creative legs of independent cinema and the early stage work of a promising creative team.
The Evil Down the Street is available now to stream on Amazon Prime.