History of Evil (2024) Movie Review – A terrible snoozefest that lowballs viewers’ expectations of horror

A terrible snoozefest that lowballs viewers’ expectations of horror

Shudder’s History of Evil starts off with big expectations. Set in the year 2045, we follow a political activist Alegre Rodriguez as she escapes prison from a facility in Louisiana. The film’s setting is a dystopian North American Federation, a tyrannical and fascist state that has replaced its democratic counterpart. Free speech is a luxury that very few can afford, even less so the enterprising members of The Resistance, who want to bring down the autocracy. Well, it is not really an autocracy but a veiled one that has taken the deception of democratic values and weaponised religion to establish authority.

Alegre is helped by her husband Ron and fellow member Trudy after she escapes. They – along with Ron and Alegre’s daughter Daria – hit the road in a van. The mother-daughter duo are smuggled as bodies through various checkpoints to finally arrive at a safe house. The original plan is for the quartet to stay the night, after which an extraction team will take them back to the organisation’s base. However, due to an increased risk of being spotted, the team’s plan gets delayed. 

It should not have been a problem for the group to stay at the house. In other circumstances, it would have provided them an opportunity to renew acquaintances and spend some quality time together. However, it is at this point that the film shifts gears and ventures into the supernatural horror territory. It is a decidedly mediocre and derivative version of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which is promising in theory but found wanting due to uninspired execution. 

Ron starts seeing visions of Cain, the former owner of the house, who starts poisoning him with racist ideas. Cain also instils in Ron toxic notions of masculinity, encouraging him to assert himself over Alegre. There aren’t too many dramatic twists waiting for us in the offing, even though the possibility is strongly hinted. All that potentiality is drained out by bad creative choices where director/writer Bo Mirhosseni chooses to root his story in the shadow of the ideas purported at the start of the film. 

Technically, History of Evil lacks substance. The bread and butter of filmmaking – screenplay and acting – are plain and expressionless. The cast is not occasioned too frequently to offer flair – which is a problem in itself – but in the most critical moments of the film toward the end, they disappoint. They lack spatial awareness and a sense of cinematic tension. It results in a mismatch in the tonality of many scenes where Mirhosseni and the actors go in a different direction. Maybe that also has to do with the director’s inability to communicate clearly with his cast. 

To be fair, the dialogue is incohesive. If you chart the lineage of the plot from the beginning, the resultant line would be cascading. A number of starts and abrupt ends prevent History of Evil from gathering momentum. As a viewer, you have to keep adjusting to the changing gears of the screenplay, which is frustrating. I do not think these curveballs are intentional but the outcome of poor organizational skills. The plotting is very weak, which is perhaps the provenance of everything wrong with the film.

The central ideas in History of Evil are bereft of weight. Mirhosseni doesn’t seriously develop his ideas into flourishing strands of storytelling. We are only tempted with one-liners lifted directly from the page without any intention to make them anything more. This lack of specificity is possibly to mask the hollowness of the writing.

Paul Wesley is not very impressive as the leading man. His ineptness in the role is glaring given he is on the frontlines. He is asked to do too much of the heavy lifting with subtle changes of expression. Unfortunately, the actor comes up short.

History of Evil is positioned as a horror film in the promotional campaign but there is very little evidence to characterize it so. The unwillingness of the makers to dig deep and make a serious filmmaking effort with a well-developed script leads to its downfall. 


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