Our Evil (Mal Nosso)

Brazil (2017) Dir. Samuel Galli

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but in the case of the circumstances in this film, this particular aphorism is something of an understatement. A grisly, low-budget debut film from Brazil featuring first time actors, Our Evil is good old-fashioned tale of good vs. evil with a decidedly surreal supernatural twist.

Surfing the Dark Web, Arthur (Ademir Esteves), a seemingly unassuming, portly fellow, finds a video of a man named Charles (Ricardo Casella) torturing then killing a young woman. Arthur then gets in contact with Charles, serial killer and assassin for hire, and meets him in a bar to explain the job he needs doing, that must be performed before midnight on a certain date, with the money to be paid one hour later.   

A few days later Charles carries out the request as asked and returns home, to check the files Arthur gave him that will unlock the password to claim his money. In the folder however, Charles finds a video Arthur has recorded, in which he explains why this job needed doing and why the specific targets were chosen, but also that fate has one more cruel hand to deal.

It’s hard to categorise Our Evil as it is not an straight up horror film despite the themes of demonic possession and some upsetting gore (justifying the 18 certificate from the BBFC), and it’s not quite a psychological horror either; nor it is grotesque torture porn or a religious parable. It’s all of these things yet original in its blending of these elements to make something you won’t forget in a hurry.

One thing that does reveal itself however is that Samuel Galli’s story presumably has its roots in a treatment for a short film which he then decided to expand to 90 minutes. This isn’t exposed in the meagre budget as the production values are very impressive, rather in the way certain scenes feel elongated past their usefulness. Some might see this as tension building; others may recognise it as mere ballast.

That said, Galli escapes full criticism for this as his curious narrative style and deceptive approach to storytelling through keeping his cards close to his chest, the audience never really knows what is going on or what will happen next. Oddly, the story never really builds to anything as such, in that there is a crescendo finale that is long overdue – instead the ending we do get is more of a definite full stop at the end of a sentence.

Before that, there are the whys and wherefores of Arthur hiring Charles in the first place, which has the unique distinction of being both terrifyingly extreme and tragic in equal measures. In the video Arthur made for Charles, we learn that he is not quite as non-descript as he may appear – as a teen Arthur (Fernando Cardoso) found he was able to hear the spirits of the dead and some would even visit him in all their deceased glory.

About to kill himself to end the suffering, Arthur is drawn into a dream world by a clown face spirit guide (Antony Mello) who encourages Arthur to use his gift to exorcise demonic spirits. We’ll stop there as things are about to spoil the key twist of the plot, but it needs mentioning a later mission of Arthur’s, involving the mother of a young girl named Michele that would change his life forever.

The religious aspect of this isn’t pushed as heavily as one might imagine, with God and Jesus not even mentioned or any visible symbols or similar ephemera on display, yet there is a sense of a spiritual undercurrent driving Arthur, his exorcisms and his actions that put him in touch with Charles. His motives may not be openly divine but Galli leaves plenty of gaps for us to infer otherwise.

Charles on the other hand, is only black and white as a character in that his misanthropic attitude and taste for torturing others is glaring obvious and he has no redeeming qualities, yet we never know why he is like this. With no backstory being shared except for a few sly hints of a bigger picture, Charles is framed as pure unrepentant evil and it comes off as lazy writing in doing so.

Sadly, this carries over a little into the performances, with Ricardo Casella not being able to bring any true nuance to Charles in making him an enigma that would at least yield some interest from the audience. At least Casella is suitably unflinching in the scenes in which he tortures his victims, making Charles’ sadistic strict credible.

Both actors playing Arthur bring something different to the role yet relay the same sense of inner turmoil of struggling with his abilities and the weight of the burden on him. Fernando Cardoso is the more intense of the two, understandable given his youth, but is not without empathy while Ademir Esteves brings an air of weary melancholy to a man at the end of his moral tether.

Whilst the gore is infrequent it disturbingly gruesome enough to satiate those waiting for it and appal the easily squeamish. Charles’s snuff videos on the other hand should upset everybody. There is a physical demonic figure which, for the budget, is a superb piece of make-up and costume design that takes in a traditional devil appearance with a ghoulish and visceral makeover.

For a debuting director, Galli reveals arthouse leanings, most notable in surreal scenes featuring Arthur and his clown mentor, yet exudes the gritty and prickly sensation find in other South American horror films. His sense of pacing needs work but that will happen over time.

There is little chance Our Evil will appeal to mainstream audiences or strict horror fans. It may even prove challenging for some of those with wider tastes but this is a smart and inventive film that competently delivers a unique experience as well as introducing a promising new talent.