Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Billy Zane, Natalie Mendoza, Christina Cole, Louise Barnes, Collin Moss, Joel Torre, Gerald Zarcilla
Written and directed by Terence Daw
There’s not a whole lot of surviving going on in Surviving Evil. Given the premise of the crew of a “Survivorman”/”Man vs. Wild” type of TV program trapped in a remote jungle being stalked by mythological monsters, I sure did expect to see some of those survival skills play into their surviving this evil – not so. Not even when it comes to surviving the elements of the jungle. Just the usual hide and flee and fight back when forced to. I was hoping the use of survival skills to defeat these creatures in their own environment would have come into play more than it did.
The evil they must survive is an Aswang – a whole tribe of them, in fact. The Aswang is a monster that hasn’t been the subject of very many monster movies I know of. This could be due to Western filmmakers being unfamiliar with or uninterested in creatures of Filipino folklore or because we are talking about a monster that the pronunciation of its name would make Peter Griffin snicker. Aswangs are hideous blood-drinking demons that live in the jungle treetops of the Philippines and are said to be shape-changers (a power not made use of in the film). In all honesty, the movie could have been about a tribe of feral mongoloid cannibals living in the Filipino jungle, and it really would not make that dramatic a difference as to how Surviving Evil plays out aside from a very cool moment near the end when the Aswangs spread their bat wings and attack by air.
The Aswang is also said to reproduce by seeking out pregnant women and somehow reimpregnating them so that their fetus is mutated and born an Aswang. That could spell extra trouble for a pregnant member of the TV crew. Hint: not Billy Zane.
Billy Zane is the rather unconvincing host of this nature survival show. Never bought for a second that this erudite Boy Scout could survive in a hostile jungle with or without monsters on the prowl nor does he ever get put in a position to do so. When the going gets tough, Zane comes up lame and his know-how becomes a non-factor.
Natalie Mendoza is a novice Filipino production assistant who grew up hearing the legend of the Aswang. So meek and naive, I almost didn’t even recognize her as the same actress that played the tough-as-nails Juno in The Descent. Something about her performance here left me thinking she would be perfect as the bathing island beauty in a remake of Son of Godzilla.
The rest of the TV crew consists of a British female production assistant dating the show’s star and the prerequisite man and woman that used to be an item and now prove better at being snide with one another. The local Filipino guide that led them to this particular remote island turns out to have an agenda all his own.
There’s a whole lot of set-up and character development for the first hour that won’t bore, but you won’t exactly be on the edge of your seat either. Surviving Evil is reminiscent of those old black & white jungle thrillers from the Forties and Fifties that involved more exposition about the characters’ personal entanglements until the final reel when the monster finally stops hiding in the bush and goes on the attack. The writers even managed to work in a subplot about a lost treasure.
Those last 20 minutes are pretty good, actually, despite the night cinematography sometimes being so bright I could barely discern anything on the screen. An hour’s worth of build-up partially paid off as I actually found myself caring about the well-being of a character or two and not quite sure who was going to make it. Boilerplate storytelling, no doubt, but not without merit.
There are also some annoying moments of stupidity, like the sudden arrival of a pack of wild dogs that is then forgotten about as quickly as it’s introduced. Or when two characters discover recently skinned corpses in an abandoned village and choose to say nothing to the others. One has ulterior motives for doing so; that I understand. What was the other’s excuse? She has an excuse and it’s not a good one given the circumstances.
Unquestionably the best aspect of Surviving Evil is the creature design. You don’t often get a good clear look at the Aswang, but when you do, they certainly look like the stuff of nightmares. I just wish they had contributed more to the first hour. Even those old monster movies would give the monster something to do before the third act reveal. Seeing them fly in a brief sequence that highlights the film made me realize how much a bigger budget would have allowed for more moments like this and made for a more satisfying b-movie.
2 1/2 out of 5
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