out of Five
Running time: 105
Worthy but disappointing supernatural thriller that highlights a genuinely shocking chapter in America's history but frames it as a badly written, poorly structured and frequently confusing ghost story.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Georgina Lightning, American Evil was made in 2008 (when it was known as Older Than America) and is presumably only surfacing now - for a brief pre-DVD theatrical release - in order to cash in on Bradley Cooper's post-Hangover success. Cooper stars as Luke, a geologist who comes to a Native American community in Minnesota in order to investigate a mysterious earthquake.
Luke quickly befriends friendly local police officer Johnny (Adam Beach), who has problems of his own: his wife Rain (Georgina Lightning) is having terrifying visions involving Native American schoolchildren being abused by Catholic priests and worries that she may be inheriting her catatonic mother's (Rose Berens) mental illness. However, when Luke also experiences a strange vision, he and Johnny investigate the local history and uncover a shocking cover-up.
American Evil highlights an undeniably shocking chapter in America's history, namely that, as a caption informs us, as late as 1975, Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools that attempted to stamp out all traces of their own culture (including forbidding them to speak their own language) and subjected them to numerous other abuses. Unfortunately, the film itself never really comes together, despite good work from Adam Beach (who really ought to be in more movies) and reliable character actor Chris Mulkey as the shifty looking mayor.
As co-writer, director and co-star, Lightning's passion for her project is self-evident but unfortunately, the script is all over the place – the dialogue is perfunctory at best and the structure can't even seem to decide on a main character (Cooper is a token presence at best and disappears for no reason at about the 60 minute mark).
Similarly, there are long stretches where nothing happens, while the visions themselves aren't actually all that scary.
Though the setting and premise make this intriguingly different from the usual slate of sub-par Hollywood thrillers, it's ultimately hard not to wonder if the story might not have been better served by a documentary or at least a straight-up Issues Drama like The Magdalene Sisters.
American Evil earns an extra star for worthiness, but anyone expecting the Bradley Cooper-led horror-slash-B movie suggested by the marketing is going to be very disappointed.