When Evil Reigns (2006)

Director Luke Jackson, Alix Jackson
Writers Luke Jackson, Alix Jackson
Starring Ceara Nelson, Alix Jackson, Matt Savige, Tanya Stuart
Genre Zombie
Tagline Faster. Stronger. Smarter. And they want in.
Country

When Evil Reigns, we always dig a pun in a movie title over here at ScaryMinds, is the feature length movie debut for brothers Luke and Alix Jackson. What is surprising is that the total production budget for the film was $5,000 and it took the Brothers six years to get the film onto DVD release. Actually considering there's only one glaring continuity error, check the Christchurch tee-shirt in the first third of the flick, that's a pretty good achievement matching name sake Peter Jackson's long winded shooting of his debut feature Bad Taste. The Jackson brothers present a movie that is rough around the edges, that could have done with another edit and a few scenes reshoot, but which end of day surpasses a lot of Hollywood product that would have spent the $5,000 on breakfast for the first morning's shooting. There's something undeniably original in When Evil Reigns even as the movie adheres to fixed horror standards. Let's break it down and shake it all around.

Talk us through it

Chris, Liz, and their friends have finished TAFE for the day and probably just want to go grab a drink or three. Ominously thunder rumbles overhead and it begins to hose down. Which might explain a speeding car knocking a young woman off her bike. The Driver gets out of his car to see what he can do, stop speeding for starters mate, and gets drenched in the monsoon like torrent falling from the skies. He decides the best course of action is to brain the bike rider with a hammer he takes from his car boot.

Notably everyone else caught in the rain looks like they might be trying for the part of extras in a Romero movie as best friends Chris and Matt decide it might be prudent to shutdown all outside access to the TAFE building. Trapped inside with Melbourne descending into hell a group of survivors try and work out what's going down, how to get through the night, and just how to get out of dodge. An intense zombie flick ensues.

Ready to switch to bottled water?

Review

"Reconcile is the perfect word. A crisis brings out the vocabulary in me" - Liz

Please note I'm calling the rain saturated psychos in this movie "zombies" for want of a better term. Even though I would argue that we are pretty much dealing with zombies here for all intents and purposes some readers may object to the application of the term "zombie". If more into the Romero definition then simply replace the word "zombie" with "psycho" or whatever while reading the rest of the review.

The Jacksons open their movie with a number of static shots of a footbridge over a creek. In fact the film makers spend perhaps way too much time framing the bridge from different angles for the overall importance the location will have. I'm guessing they simply wanted to mark out this is as good a place as any to say the "zombie" outbreak started here, ground zero is a forgotten bridge over an unnamed creek. A couple are jogging through the increasingly heavy rain and are having one of those early morning arguments that don't bode well for them enjoying their day later in the morning. We cut to a cyclist who is already on the bridge and donning her wet weather gear. Important point, she has a rain hood. Our joggers reach the bride over troubled water, it's really starting to get a bit heavy rain wise, and the female half of the equation launches into the sort of bitchkreig that leaves grown men weak at the knees. Talk about your weapons of mass destruction! Her male companion replies by smacking her one in the mouth, thus confirming he probably supports a rugby league team and is being effected by whatever is in the rain water. Cyclist chick, who shouts out as the audience try to come to grips with what they have just seen, is soon getting out of dodge as fast as her wheels can take her as the new heavy weight champion of the wife beating circuit lumbers in her direction.

We cut to cycle chick making it home and waking her partner or maybe flatmate, point isn't important. She wants to report the attack to the police while he thinks the application of an wrench would be the answer. Our valiant couple make it to the bridge where jogger dude looks like the might have just finished off business. It's still hosing down and someone carrying a wrench forgot to put on his wet weather gearů

The Jacksons lack the budget to adequitely convey their violence in a realistic fashion, but to a certain degree the audience, excluding gorehounds, are going to be happy they don't.

Having established via fist and wrench that the movie isn't likely to star Julie Andrews and the hills wont exactly be alive with the sound of music the Directors turn to introducing their lead characters and a slight dramatic tension in the form of a love triangle. Chris is the perennial drifter who just needs the right catalyst to bring out his best and square up that jaw, Matt is the faithful number two who is solid and dependable, while Liz has always had a thing for Chris but hasn't let that impinge on their friendship. The rest of the cast pretty much fit expected horror characters, and includes the requisite disposals to ensure the body count keeps ticking along. To be honest some more work needed to be done during this segment of the movie to really nail audience attachment to the major characters.

When Evil Reigns may be sounding pretty much like your rage fuelled zombie flick circa 28 Days Later but the Jacksons do add some new sizzle to the steak they are grilling nicely given the budget. For the first time ever that I'm aware of the survivors grab one of the infected to see if they can't find a remedy. The feeling is that since the "zombies" are more docile out of the rain than things may not be totally unredeemable. Yes I'm aware of the whole Dr Frankenstein and Bub thing from Day of the Dead but that was an attempt to pacify not to reverse the infection. I'm pretty much ready to applaud any film maker prepared to take the standard operating manual for a horror film and screw around with it. Okay the attempt at de-zombification may have lead to dire consequences but at least our survivors are giving it that good old TAFE attempt. Right from this point on we know we aren't dealing with a "bus load of idiots" and even when they get it wrong the characters in When Evil Reigns are making rational decisions based on what they know about their situation.

During the second half of the movie we, for no apparent reason, leave zombietown in our dust as we head into down town slasher center. At this stage of the film the Jacksons lost me a bit, was the masked killer meant to be zombie or simply someone who had cracked under pressure? During this period of the movie the Brothers are at their strongest and they managed to rope and tie tension in large measures. We have no idea who the masked fiend might be, though obvious he/she is one of the survivors. With a steadily decreasing character list the heat is on Chris and Liz to correctly point the finger at the culprit. There's a slight red herring with Matt having the finger pointed at him by another character and disappearing for ten minutes or so, but anyone with their horror radar up and running wont be fooled there. When we do discover who our Jason Voorhees actually is it comes as something of a surprise but is adequately covered by preceding events to avoid any accusation of left field script shenanigans. Directors Luke and Alix Jackson are hitting it out of the ballpark with their camera angles, use of darkness, and isolated characters. To hell with Rob Zombie these guys should be directing Halloween 2!

Considering the budgetary constraints, hope no one was expecting coffee and sangers on set, the Directors do about the best they can behind the camera. We get some frantic pacing in places, especially liked the quick editing during the TAFE lockdown early in the movie, some overhead shoots, and some nice use of lightening to heighten the isolation of our survivors.

Naturally there are some flaws with the movie that a good post production team would have isolated. The zombies are either fast or slow moving depending on script requirements, wasn't a certain character knifed multiple times yet is still swinging away, and what exactly was the dispute over the rehearsal room booking all about as once raised it had no further part to play in our plot. There's a few other things that the sharp eyed might spot, but nothing will really take you out of the movie.

A couple of final things I noted and we'll talk about the cast. Apparently you can spot a TAFE film class by the posters on the wall. I noted an eclectic mixture of The Faculty,Night Watch, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Ironically the lecture was on film noir so guess that sort of ties in. There's a recurrent theme in the movie that chicks riding bikes will come to bad ends via various tools. Do the Jacksons have something against the two wheeled female brigade?

Ceara Nelson (Liz) gets top billing and does an admirable job given she is not a professional actor. Might be someone to keep an eye on. Alix Jackson (Chris) sort of worked, not sure casting yourself in your own movie is ever a good idea. Matt Savige (Matt) reminded me of Harry from the "Cat Empire" band so I immediately liked that character. And Tanya Stuart (Miranda) simply can't act and was straining at places waiting for her line queues. Overall the rest of the cast are adequate considering the lack of professionals in the film.

No T&A on offer due to budget constraints, cold looking weather, and the Directors trying to steer clear of the exploitation tag.

One of the highlights of When Evil Reigns for mine was an outstanding score by Ryan Granger. The composer is certainly adventurist in a mainly percussion driven soundtrack and pretty much nails the Jackson's visuals. Notably the Directors use the sound of rain throughout the movie as a constant reminder of what is happening outside the confines of the TAFE.

Before I forget, best use of a nail gun ever in a horror movie!

Summary Execution

I watched When Evil Reigns a couple of times before sitting down to write the review. The movie is raw, doesn't have the gloss of even a Boredwood "B" grader, but it does have it's own rhythm and sticks to it's own beat effective throughout the ninety odd minute running time. I was entertained and was left wondering if you shouldn't drink the water in Melbourne. Director/Writes Luke and Alix Jackson at least try for something slightly different in a well trodden sub genre and provide a movie that would be a good framework for a revisit sometime later in their career in a sort of Sam Rami Evil Dead fashion, i.e. with the budget to make the movie they really wanted to make. End of day the movie did entertain me and the resolution and ending didn't leave me thinking the movie makers got bored with things. While not talking early George Romero here, there isn't much of an attempt at a message, I would be interested in catching the Brothers Jackson's next film. These guys could be devastating with a decent budget.

I'm reading my viewing notes here while marking up the review and keep coming across things I didn't add in the first draft of said review. For people who want comparisons to other movies then When Evil Reigns reminded me of Carpenter's Prince of Darkness, the TAFE seige, and The Thing, the drinking water test. Guess I was seeing more of a John Carpenter influence than strickly a George A Romero one, if we can get an interview with the Brothers will raise the point and see how far off the reservation I was with that.

When Evil Reigns is real independent stuff and is a return to good old fashion Aussie gonzo film making. You get the feeling the Jacksons, I'm really pressing not to include any of the U.S music group's lyrics here, didn't overly bother with getting all the permits and local council approvals they might have needed. The good news is the DVD of the movie is available via the official website When Evil Reigns. Please note all figures quoted are in Australian pesos. The movie itself is excellent value at a low $10 for a double disc release, and shipping is either $3 domestic or $7 international. Value for money or what there!

The recommendation on this movie is guarded. For those who enjoy film for film's sake then get stuck in, When Evil Reigns is worth the effort. If however you require the big glossy Boredwood $30 million flick then you are probably reading the wrong site anyways. The Jacksons movie is without post production tinkering but that does add to the charm and overall feel of When Evil Reigns. Worth a look to see what can be achieved on a limited budget and makes you wonder where exactly they spend the money on some genre output. While not saying that this film is going to receive cult status, lets face facts it's not going to, I can state that the price is right to dial into a flick by movie makers that are going to go on to bigger and better things.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

Pick up the DVD it's worth a look.