The tenth annual Knoxville Horror Film Festival brought out the best in genre storytelling throughout the long weekend. One of the highlights of the festival was the Drafthouse Films and Timpson Films produced anthology entitled THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL.
Based on little known and worldwide folklore, urban legends, and myths, THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL debuted at the Austin based spring media festival SXSW earlier this year. Perhaps the most original project in quite a long while, the anthology comes from eight different countries and filmmakers from around the world. Presenting a different visual style, storytelling techniques, musical score, and interruption of the country’s darkness, THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL is very surprising and not only fresh but truly diverse. Featuring a balance of filmmakers that fans may know like Can Evrenol (Housewife), Veronica Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy), Peter Strickland (In Fabric), and Agnieszka Smoczynska (The Lure), they are joined by creative minds that have been part of the Drafthouse family like Calvin Lee Reeder, Yannis Veslemes, Ashim Ahluwalia, and Katrin Gebbe.
With a running time of nearly two hours in length, THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL kicked off the anthology with a cautionary tale surrounding sexuality and secrets amongst two young women in ‘Die Trud.’ Brought to life by the minds behind the dark tale of Goodnight Mommy, Franz and Fiala reflect a 1970’s European visual style. One of the highlights of this segment is the lightening throughout the segment. The lightening reflects the natural beauty of the landscape and later on the reveal of the monster called the Trud with some smart framing and FX. The mostly female based tale revolves around the guilt between these two women and how they feel in a traditional village. Franz and Fiala get vulnerable performances from their two leads that also blend a bit of humor and innocence to offset the very frightening monster in the Trud.
The second tale takes us into Turkey for the maternal horror of Evrenol’s ‘Al Karisi.’ Focusing on the entity known as the Djinn, this tale feels so much more unpredictable and rawer then ‘Die Trud.’ More of a recent feel and connecting tale, ‘Al Karisi’ follows a young mother who is not only taking care of her newborn but also a bedridden elder figure all by herself. Similar to the The Babadook, the pressure of these responsibilities and conflicts begin to get to her. As we see the days go by, the young mother begins to see things that are out to get her and her baby. Evrenol’s ‘Al Karisi,’ has some atmosphere and a load of tension. Building the dread from almost the first moments, the actress portraying the mother is great as she deals with a range of emotions, paranoia (including a goat), and the Djinn dark trickery. Of course, ‘Al Karisi’ has the Evrenol’s bloody fingerprint such as what we saw in Baskin with cringe worthy FX makeup. Perhaps my favorite segment, it has a dream like feel, wonderful production design, and a bit of brutality.
The next tale takes us to Poland for ‘The Kindler and The Virgin.’ Told by the unique mind behind The Lure, this segment almost feels like spaghetti western style storytelling. It revolves around a traveler who is told by a female entity that he will become the smartest man in the world after consuming three hearts of the newly dead. One of the more disgusting tales at this point in the anthology, Smoczynska cinematographer presents some wonderful and smart camera work throughout including building an uncomfortable intimacy with the consumption of hearts and gravedigging. The practical FX surrounding the hearts are gory and don’t hold back as the traveler embraces the prophecy. A very detailed entry, the costuming and locations are highlights of this entry with ending perhaps the most unique of the collection.
As the pages of the ancient field guide flip presenting not only the title page for each segment but also a blurb of information talking the myth or lore or legend, the fourth page to flip open brought the most modern urban legend of the bunch and the corniest. ‘The Melon Heads’ is absurd and modernized tale. Unlike most of these segments where we deal with the historical side of these countries and these myths, this story reflects what most of the audience can connect with. Based around a married couple and their son, the idea of a relationship and how to make it work when children are involved consumes most of the narrative time. These ‘melon heads’ are monsters that are not born but are made by a creepy and little madman sitting up in the woods. This is a piece of United States filmmaking blending dark humor, camp, and weird FX that are strange rather than the macabre until the final few moments of the segment where it gets very dark, very quick.
The fifth tale moves us to Greece for perhaps the most epic of the segments reflecting a film style like we see in 300 and The Scythian. Entitled ‘What Ever Happened to Panagas the Pagan?,’ this tale is about of obsession, masculinity, and consumption. The Filmmaker Veslemes brings to life a dream like underworld that looks like something you would see in art books. The story is based around a goblin whose is captured, and its blood is consumed by a crowd in a Greek village that fall into madness. An enchanting score that drives the surreal light and color palate. The goblin’s makeup is both weird and offsetting.
The next tale focuses on the India lore entitled ‘Palace of Horrors.’ Directed by Ahluwalia, this black and white short follows an expedition during 1913 through the jungle and into a palace. Narrated throughout, this segment has more of a traditional horror presentation that reminds me of films like the classic White Zombie. I love the edit on this short with the photos and pace throughout. The lightening is excellent as there is glow that creates a haunting overlay for the terrible things that unfold.
The final two segments come from Europe. Entitled a ‘A Nocturnal Breath,’ German filmmaker Gebbe tells an intimate and disturbing tale of siblings while the anthology concludes with stylish auteur Peter Strickland’s love triangle called ‘The Cobbler’s Lot. ‘A Nocturnal Breath,’ is one of the most emotional and visceral segments of this collection. Shot like a dream, the countryside is on display here with a blend of CGI and practical FX to tell a tale of a young woman who is reanimated from the dead and her brother who must deal with this entity. Reminding me of the barebones tension built with The VVitch, Gebbe twists the screws with a central question of could you kill one of your own? On the other hand, Strickland’s segment has different twist on the love connection. Based around a love triangle in a world that feels like Oz, Strickland brings another expressionist piece of cinema. ‘The Cobbler’s Lot’ explodes with the trademark experimentation of color and light that speaks like dialogue. Overdramatic and bizarre, the score of this segment is perhaps the best of the anthology.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most creative and passion-based projects. It is a winner for the restrictions that it no doubt had and the risks it takes. Props to Timpson and League for backing this project and the fans for supporting it as their experience definitely guided it. Unlike other anthologies that lose directors, have crew thrown together, deal with the loss of financing or even take on the same old genre troupes and ideals, THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL is a fresh project. The idea of a minimal wrap-around does not overwhelm the overall anthology. The variety in score, style, and storytelling is fantastic! While every segment is not on the same level, the artistic merit is there and reflects each country represented with creative, genre brilliance.