The prologue to The Evil In Us reveals a modern apartment turned blood-soaked charnel house where police find two of the three room mates dead, and the third (Tatyana Forrest) alive but horrifically mutilated. There appears to have been no murder weapon.
As, over the next 24 hours, Detective Jake Strudwick (John Gillich) races to work out what happened to these flatmates, six similarly aged, similarly affluent liberals go holidaying on a small island together to celebrate the 4th of July. Brie (Debs Howard) is the new girlfriend of Steve (Danny Zaporozan), and the only outsider in a tight group of friends who come with complicated emotional histories and tensions. Those complications will become exacerbated to deadly extremes when the cocaine brought over by Wheeler (Ian Collins) begins to have unusual side-effects on all who use it – and Brie will find herself having to face a monstrous evil in the very people who just hours ago had embraced her as family. Meanwhile, in a laboratory, a sinister man (Robert Leaf) oversees strange experiments on prisoners.
Writer/director Jason William Lee offers viewers all the thrills of a zombie/’rage’ virus film, while placing those thrills in a very different kind of narrative frame and idoleogical context. It boasts the drug-induced murder-mania of Paddy Breathnach’s Shrooms (2007), Ian Clark’s The Facility (2012) or Alberto Marini’s Summer Camp (2015), and its path to horror is paved with well-sketched, believable characters – but Lee uses his island setting as a laboratory for bigger ideas about how unscrupulous opportunists can set society upon itself for their own ends.
It may at first seem odd to have a Canadian film set in and around Seattle, Washington during that most American of holidays Independence Day, but this is because Lee’s feature debut is a comment on the vulnerabilities of the political system in place south of Canada’s border – a system where people are easily polarised against one another by those who use fear-mongering to cling, or accede, to power. The Evil In Us, you see, is also The Evil In US – and while it may begin with all the tropes of genre in place (the bickering co-eds; the isolated cabin in the woods; the sex, drinking and drugs; the zombie-like behaviour; the violence, brutality and cannibalism), it ends somewhere closer to a prediction of how easily a ruthless demagogue can use homegrown terror to manipulate a rise to the highest office – ensuring the film’s own relevance to some very contemporary anxieties. In the Age of Trump, that is enough to make all of us insanely paranoid.
© Anton Bitel