'Another Evil' Plumbs The Absurdity And The Occult Power Of The Horror Movie Ghost Hunter [SXSW 2016 REVIEW]

another-evil
Os (Mark Proksch) and Dan (Steve Zissis) investigate a haunted cabin in 'Another Evil.' ATGOH, LLC

If Os isn’t remembered with the best ghost hunters in movie history, it will be a historic injustice.

Dan (Steve Zissis) and Mary (Jennifer Irwin) have a haunted cabin. Ghosts are painting their walls, leaving behind freaky deaky triangles and occasionally manifesting physically to glower and waggle their disgusting, blood-tentacle faces.

The couple are successful, educated types, skeptical enough to be suspicious of New Age woo, but open-minded enough to give anything a shot. So they call in a ghost hunter.

As a persistent genre hallmark, the ghost hunter is a marker for a haunted house movie’s tone. Priests are often used to lend a film gravity and insinuate itself closer to the grand moral opera of Christianity, adding prestige weight to The Amityville Horror or The Exorcist.

Overly knowledgeable eccentrics with weird gadgets (Insidious) and New Age affectations (Poltergeist) promise fun, letting the audience breathe and deflating the ponderousness of too many slammed doors. They can also indulge our supernatural doubts, letting our haunting victims look reasonable until their skepticism is overcome by spectral events.

Their first hire, Joey Lee (Dan Bakkedahl), with his Arizona tallboy and track pants, thinks the ghosts are best left alone. In fact, he hung out with them in their freaky Phantasm dimension and thinks it’d be a dick move to try and banish them from the cabin.

That doesn’t sit well with Dan, who is still rattled by his encounter with the supernatural and doesn’t accept Joey Lee’s reframing of the haunting as a private aurora borealis for their enjoyment.

So he gets a second opinion from Os (Mark Proksch), who dresses like an aging metal roadie. Os disagrees with Joey Lee’s diagnosis. In fact, he’s pretty sure we’re dealing with demons before he’s even seen the cabin. He convinces Dan to take immediate steps to capture the ghosts. It’s time for some strange and upsetting male bonding.

Os is so damaged his personality has been worn down to raw impulse. He drinks when he wants, gets naked when he wants and has no sense of the usual social divide between customer and service provider. At first Dan finds this half-charming. Os is his bald manic pixie dream girl who thinks tucked-in black turtlenecks and nerd-leather gives him an aura of occult sophistication.

At first Os seems innocent, like a childlike goofball from a cringe comedy. If he sometimes gets a little angry at his ghost traps is it really such a big deal? But Os begins to reveal a dark side. By the time Dan is subjected to Os' horrific origin story (An astounding Satanic parable unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Denny’s is involved.) it’s too late.

That Another Evil makes such a silly character menacing is one of the movie’s most impressive feats. Proksch and director Carson D. Mell have found an incredible, alchemical blend here, transmuting oddity into something much more powerful.

Another Evil winds its own way into the arcane mysteries of the occult, never once borrowing the imagery of the crucifix, or the holy water or the magic circle. The gadgets deployed by its ghost hunters are primal and Os steers them all with a raw instinct that’s both fired with ritual power and pathetically slapstick.

Each of Os’ ghost traps have their own internal logic that’s inscrutable to us. The one trap for which Os provides an explanation--tri-nested boxes baited with chicken and wine--is mundane in its workings. Still, when the trap shuts and they rush to bury the dangerous artifact in the front yard it’s hard not to feel a cthonic chill, as their blundering, human crudeness picks a fight with cosmic power. Another Evil captures both the deeply, existentially mysterious and our tragic, ludicrous attempts to box it.

Describe Another Evil and it may sound like deconstruction or even meta-commentary on the typical haunted house film. It is instead the most intricate and singular horror-comedy we’re likely to see in 2016.

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