Serving less as a horror film and more as an exploitative exercise in infinite patience, EVIL UNDER THE SKIN takes 8 minutes of story and stretches it out into 90 minutes of drudgery. Sophie (Helene Udy) and her daughter Roselee (Angela Barajas) take a week-long vacation at an isolated cabin to reconnect after Roselee gets out of an abusive relationship. Strange things start to happen, and…that’s it, that’s the plot. An unsurprising twist takes place at the 86-minute mark (of a 90-minute runtime, I must iterate), but the rest of the film is comprised of laughably gratuitous nudity, bizarre plot lines that have nothing whatsoever to do with the main story, and unbearably long shots that seem to serve no other purpose than padding the runtime out to feature-length.
Unfortunately, there is very little to recommend about this film. The actors perform their lines as if they’ve never seen the full script and only received their sides five minutes before shooting started. Roselee is topless more often than not, and there never seems to be a good reason for it other than that the filmmakers wanted her to be topless a lot. At one point she tells her mother, who finally objects to her inexplicable nudity: “Nobody cares about boobies. This is Oregon.” Perhaps an Oregonian could explain that line to me because I certainly couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to mean.
Meandering shots of the woods and the sky and the water could charitably be interpreted as emphasizing the women’s isolation and the dread that the film might have been aiming for. However, the infuriatingly slow pacing and bizarre editing honestly felt more like the creators wanted a 90-minute runtime no matter how they had to go about getting it. If you cut out the shots of Roselee walking down the huge lawn to the pier, walking down the pier to the lake, walking back up the pier from the lake, and walking back across the lawn to the cabin (all in her bikini, of course), the movie would probably be half as long as it was.
There are a few eerie moments that even the abysmal pacing can’t ruin, but EVIL UNDER THE SKIN still manages to throw in some of the most legitimately puzzling scares I’ve ever seen. Roselee jumps out and yells “Boo!” (yes, she literally yells “Boo!”) at Sophie not once, but twice. It was so cheap that I thought there was no way they were intended to be jump scares (especially considering how bored Angela Barajas seemed while performing them), but beyond adding an extra couple of minutes to the runtime, I couldn’t figure out what other purpose they might have served.
The tinkly piano score is irritating and repetitive, and the sound effect choices made by the filmmakers are just as bizarre as every other choice made on this production. On at least one occasion, background noises drop out for no reason. Obviously filmmakers sometimes cut out background noises for effect — if a character is dissociating or has lost their hearing or because something otherworldly is happening — but the only plausible explanation for it in this specific scene was that it was just a mistake. Characters make frequent mention of mysterious screams and knocks, but the film never feels the need to let the audience hear these eerie sounds. It’s a strange omission when a film is ostensibly trying to build a sense of tension and unease.
We discover at the 79-minute mark that there’s a mystery door that Sophie and Roselee can’t unlock that has evidently been torturing them for the entire film. But, since this is the first time the audience is hearing of it, it doesn’t make much of an impact. And I haven’t even mentioned the randomly incestuous brother-sister team (Tim O’Hearn and Donna Hamblin) who menace Sophie for no discernible reason. They seem to be set up pretty early on as the major antagonists since we see them plotting and discussing Sophie and her daughter several times, but then they just show up to the cabin, yell at Sophie, and leave, never to be heard from again. It would be maddening if the audience cared more, but the film never does much to make us care about what happens to any of the characters.
One scene, which again has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual plot of the film, perfectly encapsulates the tedium of EVIL UNDER THE SKIN. The sheriff (Carl Bailey) and the park ranger (Pamela Sutch), who evidently go around investigating noise complaints together, have lunch in the forest. The park ranger offers the sheriff his choice of lunch sacks, and when he chooses one, we discover that she has already written their names (well, his says “SHERIFF”) on the sacks. If he had a designated lunch already, why did she offer him a choice? Like most other things in the film, it’s an unnecessary and nonsensical detail that adds nothing to the movie other than length. EVIL UNDER THE SKIN is aggravatingly pedestrian, and there are far worthier movies to spend 90 minutes of your life watching.
Jeffrey Schneider’s new horror film EVIL UNDER THE SKIN arrives on DVD and Digital on September 8, 2020, through Midnight Releasing.