Here we have an international anthology film that centres around myths, legends and folktales coming from 8 different countries around the world. In The Field Guide to Evil, each filmmaker brings on the screen one of the tales from their country, trying to explore its horror roots and psychological motif.
The reason why I approached the people at Legion M. (the distribution company behind this anthology) is that some of the segments in The Field Guide to Evil are directed by filmmakers I either love or am very intrigued by. In particular, I was very curious to watch the short stories by Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala (the duo behind my favourite horror film of 2014, Goodnight Mommy), Can Evrenol (Baskin and Housewife) and Katrin Gebbe (who directed the very disturbing drama Tore Tanzt).
Due to my notorious nit-picky habits and the flawed nature of horror anthologies, I went in expecting to find at least three decent segments. I would have been happy with just that!
However, I was positively shocked by the overall high quality of The Field Guide to Evil, easily one of the best anthologies I had the pleasure to witness in the past few years. The movie is set to have a limited theatrical release in the US from July 26 and is already available on VOD (from the 29th of March). Get ready!
In fact, this project had been backed up by solid studios around the world (among which Universal Studios clearly stands out), resulting in a high-quality viewing experience with mostly fantastic production values and visuals.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Besides the way The Field Guide to Evil looks – which is nothing short than incredible for most of the short stories – a common thread is represented by the unflinching and out-there nature of its content: the movie is Rated R for disturbing and violent content, bloody images, sexual material, graphic nudity, and strong language. Yet, another focal point lies in the way all the stories should have a metaphorical/sociological explanation for the myth in question, although two episodes pretty much fail at delivering that. This guideline gives the overall anthology an extra-layer of interest, since you can delve a bit deeper into what you see on screen and prescribe your own meaning to it. Finally, the total runtime of 117 minutes is well divided between the instalments, which all have similar lengths.
An overview of the 8 short movies in The Field Guide to Evil
The Sinful Women of Hollfall (Austria, Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala) centres around an isolated community of women in the 19th century, where two of the women fall for each other resulting into a sin that an evil entity won’t forgive. Haunted by Al Karisi (Turkey, Can Evrenol) is about a pregnant teenager who’s taking care of her disabled grandma, until she starts mistreating her. The consequences for the teenager and her baby will be terrible. The Kindler and the Virgin (Poland, Agnieszka Smoczynska) is the haunting and surreal tale of a man who needs to feed upon three hearts of freshly deceased corpses to acquire some unexplained power. Nothing is as it seems in this one, though. The Melon Heads (USA, Calvin Reeder) revolves around an American family that moves to a cabin in the woods, but when their son meets an “imaginary” friend, things take a dark, creepy turn. What Ever Happened to Panagas the Pagan? (Greece, Yannis Veslemes) follows a group of people meeting with a goblin: due to their intoxicated state, they begin bullying and torturing the hideous creature. Palace of Horrors (India, Ashim Ahluwalia) is a highly stylised, black and white tale of British explorers getting in contact with an Indian god. A meeting that will bring despair on them. A Nocturnal Breath (Germany, Katrin Gebbe) follows two siblings who own a farm and, due to their sinful behaviour, one of them becomes possessed by an ancient spirit. The Cobblers’ Lot (Hungary, Peter Strickland) tells the story of two brothers who fall for the same woman, ignoring how dangerous she can be.
MY FAVOURITE SEGMENT(S)
The beauty of The Field Guide to Evil is that most of the instalments are truly solid short horror movies. However, two of them stood out to me for different reasons. I can’t decide which one to pick as my favourite, so I’ll briefly talk about them both (with no spoilers).
The Sinful Women of Hollfall – After the success of Goodnight Mommy, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala prove once again to be real horror talents. Through little dialogue and very minimal yet meticulous cinematography, this instalment creates an atmosphere that’s very hard to find in most horror movies. Yet, besides being constantly atmospheric and unsettling, this Austrian short has a couple of truly terrifying moments when the creepy vibe combines with well-timed jump-scares. The underlying message about repressed sexuality and subtle anti-religious imagery provides an extra-layer of interest. On top of that, the acting is fantastic and the visual storytelling truly delivers. 9/10
The Cobblers’ Lot – Whereas The Sinful Women of Hollfall stands out in terms of story and deeper meaning, The Cobblers’ Lot is a visual treat. Presented like a movie from the early days of cinema (with no dialogue and title cards explaining the events), this instalment is extremely stylised: the kaleidoscopic camera-work in combination with fake aesthetics give it a surreal look and feel that’s only enhanced by the fish-eye and shallow filters. The set design is fantastic and fairy-tale lake, the cinematography is meticulously crafted in every single scene. The story gets quite depraved and brutal at times but, due to the theatrical physical performances, it never devolves into disturbing realism. It’s a very unique visual experience that some people might find exaggeratingly artsy, but it achieves what it was going for in a way that’s worth praising. 9/10
MY LEAST FAVOURITE SEGMENT:
There are only two instalments in this horror anthology that didn’t work and feel out of place: The Melon Heads and What Ever Happened to Panagas the Pagan?. The Melon Heads is completely devoid of any element that connects these short movies with a common thread: it’s not atmospheric at all, it doesn’t have any underlaying message, it isn’t subtle in the slightest. However, it benefits from entertainment value and great gore effects, which makes it nearly impossible to consider it a failure.
What Ever Happened to Panagas the Pagan? – This one, on the other hand, is so sloppy and confusing that feels completely detached from the rest of The Field Guide to Evil. In spite of a lazy voiceover narrating everything, this instalment manages to be nonsensical and unclear: in order to understand its story, one needs to be familiar with the folktale it’s based on, which shouldn’t be required in a movie. As though this confusion wasn’t bad enough, the goblin – main protagonist of the story – is annoying and unbearable; the camera-work is nauseating and the colour palette so vibrant that might give a headache to some viewers. Luckily, the moral of the movie is depicted clearly and subtly in the end, giving the audience at least a reward for sitting through this. 4/10
CONCLUSION AND OVERALL GRADE
As for most of the horror anthologies ever made, The Field Guide to Evil is a mixed bag. Unlike many other movies presented this way, though, this international project has only one bad instalment, with the others ranging from decent to truly impressive. The producers behind it – which are the same people who worked on The ABCs of Death – did the right thing by giving these talented filmmakers enough time to shine. Most importantly, The Field Guide to Evil is overall scary, creepy and unsettling, all the while managing to sneak some intriguing messages in between the lines. Unless you’re easily disturbed or put off, I’d strongly recommend this surprisingly great horror anthology to everyone!
Why not considering to get a copy of the movie on DVD?
The Field Guide to Evil 7.5/10
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