Virtual Reality may be on the cusp of being the next big thing for movies. With the ability to offer an immersive experience that 3-D could never dream of, it could capture the imagination of audiences in ways 3-D has failed to despite all attempts to the contrary. IFC Midnight’s latest chiller, Let’s Be Evil, is a fairly straightforward film, yet it does manage to use the first person perspective in ways that add to the viewing experience.
Jenny (Elizabeth Morris) is one of three young adults chosen to supervise a group of “Candidates”-gifted school age children who have been selected for accelerated study and research using alternative teaching methods. Along with her coworkers Darby and Tiggs, Jenny lives in a bunker located deep underground one of the city’s towering skyscrapers. The research facility makes for an austere environment. It’s barely furnished, the children and the adults eat vacuum sealed nutrient packages and if not for the computerized goggles everyone wears, no one would be able to see a thing in the pitch black surroundings. he only other occupant is “Arial,” an artificial intelligence program that serves as a guide for Jenny and her coworkers.
The children themselves are the most unnerving aspect of the project. They are deathly quiet, never interacting with one another. Instead, they swipe and gesticulate at invisible tablets, and move in silence from station to station. The kids, who look to be about middle school age at most, are studying complicated subjects such as quantum physics and advanced geometry. There’s underlying commentary on how despite how connected technology makes us, as a psecies we’re having fewer meaningful personal interactions, choosing instead to get wrapped up in our smart phone screens. Jenny tries to interact with the kids but is rebuffed, until she makes a connection with one of the girls.
Aesthetically, Let’s Be Evil is a very cool looking film. The virtual headbands have built in information letting the viewer know whose eyes they are seeing out of at any time while calling up a host of other information. The effect is not unlike that of the “Terminator” vision. Neon pinks, blues and greens that light up the rooms help offset the spartan design of the facility. The first person perspective is similar to that of this year’s earlier effort Hardcore Henry but director Martin Owen switches perspective up enough to keep the viewer engaged. An extended sequence involving an escape through the air conditioning ducts is remisnscient of Alien while providing a tense set piece.
Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like enough time went into developing the story or characters of the film. One never gets a sense of why the children were selected for this facility or what caused them to “go bad” in the first place. Aside from knowing she needs money to care for her sick mother, the audience isn’t let in to Jenny as a character at all, and they are given even less info about Darby and Tiggs. The ending feels rushed and tacked on and offers up far more questions than it answers. Martin seems to hint at a number of interesting detours the “virtual” nature of the facility offers but never ventures more than a step or two down these tracks before pulling back.
While Let’s Be Evil is somewhat of a mixed bag, there’s enough good present to warrant a look. At 82 minutes, the film rushes by and doesn’t overstay its welcome. While some additional time that fleshed out the world would be welcome, it’s still an above average low budget thriller.