When I was contacted to write a review for The Evil at the Door, I got kind of excited. The synopsis told of a secret guild, known as The Locusts, who invade homes and have three hours to terrorize the families inside. Each group has been given a house and a family with one male and one female inside. The synopsis then admits to traitors within the Locusts’ ranks, toying with their prey, and an unaccounted-for young daughter hidden under the bed witnessing everything. It sounds unrelenting. Like The Purge, The Strangers, and Saw all rolled into one experience. B-movies are kind of my jam, but this concept blew my mind with how cool it sounded. It couldn’t lose…could it?
The Manor‘s Bruce Davison leads the Locusts. Davison gets a lot of work spanning many genres, but he’s one of those names that carries some weight, primarily here as a recognizable face in an independent horror film. That being said, his role in Evil at the Door as the cult leader of The Locusts is solely monologuing through a tablet. You know how some movies say “and a special appearance by”? That’s Davison’s level of involvement. I had to chuckle for a moment, joking to myself that Davison had made a cameo over Cameo.
Immediately I had to realize I wasn’t going to get the advertised film I had further built up. Maybe it was going to check different B-grade boxes. “So bad it’s good” is always a crowd-pleaser. Perhaps it would have some technical achievement or notable performances. Essentially, after about three minutes, I needed to rethink how to watch this movie. Obviously, not a great sign. But, when you love this genre as I do, you watch with your eyes, ears, and mind open. I could criticize the film like an internet troll, denigrating every detail with expletives and profanity for not getting what I wanted, but for what reason? Film is subjective and, though I don’t perceive it this way, Evil at the Door could be someone else’s Citizen Kane.
So, the film continued. It showed us the well-lit exterior of a ranch-style home covered in backyard lighting. Inside, Daniel (Matt O’Neill) pours himself a drink before noticing his daughter, Liz (Andrea Sweeney Blanco), on the couch adjacent to his wife, Jessica (Sunny Doench). There’s tension between Liz and Daniel stemming from her last visit when she may have robbed them. The situation is unclear in how it occurs on-screen and because the audio contains the room’s echo. The film then cuts to the exterior again, where a group of masked men are standing under the bright lights of that well-lit courtyard. They watch as Liz exits from the argument to head upstairs, her eyes never once peering through the myriad of windows, never seeing the masked men on the other side.
We’re now at the eight-minute mark. Evil at the Door has clumsily stumbled through a lot. Its low production value voids tension that could have been met with better cameras and lighting, while non-committal script work makes us wonder if Daniel is Liz’s evil stepfather and what exactly transpired between Liz and her family. However, the most notable highlight of the last four minutes was probably the exterior shots of a lovely ranch home with no apparent second floor, begging the question, where did Liz go? My mission to look for the good was getting a lot harder.
The action doesn’t begin until about twenty-four minutes into the movie, and when the cultists do make themselves known in the house, they just stand there. They surround Daniel while he plays pool, almost conscientious of his game. It’s actually comical how long they stand there for as if enthralled by Daniel’s ability with a pool cue. It might have been more menacing if one of them told him to finish his shot or commented about falling asleep to this on ESPN the night before and then pouncing on him. It may also be more fun to see some of the violence play out. Instead, they just grab him. A quick swing of the pool cue before cutting away would have proven that Daniel has some fight amidst the adverse outcome of four against one.
Besides the mesmerizing effect of Daniel’s pool playing skills, Jessica’s story has her going upstairs to take a bath, where she remains for most of Evil at the Door. Liz ends up under the bed as aforementioned, and tension should be a given from here. There’s a fight among the group of Locusts in the upstairs bedroom regarding who gets to give Jessica the fright of her life. Liz hears them as they crowd in the room around her, but they don’t know she’s in the house, so there’s no reason for them to look for her. Eisenhower (Scott Hamm) asserts his authority to beat out the rest of The Locusts. Victoriously, he then meanders around the bedroom. He listens to the country music record, as do we, coming from behind the door and walks around a bit, occasionally instilling momentary fear into Liz under the bed. These scenes are also intercut with scenes from earlier in the evening with the masked men walking around a parking lot to carpool to their event. There are likely ten whole minutes without any dialogue.
I will cut off the play-by-play here, about halfway in. If you think there’s redemption in this home invasion thriller, you should re-read the last seven paragraphs. Even the anticipatory build-up between Jessica and Eisenhower isn’t very satisfying. The positive aspects I found in this movie were very few and far between, but there were some. For starters, the set dressing and design inside the house are lovely, and the furniture and decoration complement the interiors nicely. However, with no set decoration crew listed, my guess is that these are likely crewmember houses. Still, kudos to the homeowners if that’s the case.
There are also some likable performances. And though the characters are somewhat one-dimensional, writer/director Kipp Tribble turns it all the way up as Truman. He’s the creepiest of the Locusts, quite possibly because he’s the timekeeper, and his role in Evil at the Door is probably the best part about it. He even makes Kennedy’s (Richard Siegelman) backstory more effectual without saying much of anything. I also enjoyed Scott Hamm a lot, and I only wish he had more to say and do besides traipse around the upstairs boudoir.
However, my absolute favorite thing from Evil at the Door was a line of dialogue that I couldn’t help but rewind and watch again. The line, “Do you like tickle pain?” said during a torture sequence, is so riotously maniacal. It serves as both a comical moment while evoking the fear-induced auto-response feature of a threatened brain that instantly responds a tense, “no sir, I do not,” and the line is delivered as a half-heartedly serious question making it that much better.
Overall, Evil at the Door plays like it’s filling time. There’s rarely any tension or atmosphere, the mayhem is non-existent, and for most of it, you’re listening to a suspiciously long country LP that never has to be flipped. It is difficult to make a movie, there are a million moving pieces that need to fit together, and it very seldom goes the way you planned it. Anyone who gets to make a movie is my hero. Tribble’s movie doesn’t work for me, but I admire the effort. It may be worthy of an entertaining midnight watch with some friends, a pizza, and a bucket of brews, and for some people, that might make it even better than Citizen Kane.
Evil at the Door will debut on the Terror Films channel on January 21, one week before becoming available across all VOD platforms on January 28.