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Surviving Evil
cast: Billy Zane, Natalie Mendoza, Colin Moss, Joel Torre, and Christina Cole

director: Terence Daw

86 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Spirit DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Mark West
After a brief sequence played under the credits, where a native village comes under attack from something unseen, the film opens as a British documentary crew arrives on the island of Mayaman, in the Philippines. They are there to shoot the 183rd episode of 'Surviving The Wilderness', a Ray-Mears kind of show featuring Sebastian Beazley (Billy Zane), and they will be on the island, out of contact apart from a couple of satellite phones, for five days. The crew comprises Phoebe (Christina Cole), a chirpy sound-girl, Dex (Colin Moss) the cameraman, Rachel (Louise Barnes), the producer, Joey (Joel Torre), the guide, and his ward Cecilia ("call me Chill"), played by Natalie Mendoza - a long way from Hotel Babylon but not too far from her Descent antics.

The first third of the film sets the characters up and, apart from some dialogue exchanges that sound like they were written by an American who'd never heard a real Brit speak, this is quite well done. Phoebe fears she might be pregnant, after a late-night fumble with Seb, Rachel and Dex have a past, though he's tried to move on and Chill lost her parents, but keeps dreaming about a burrow on the island.

As the crew settles in and starts filming, odd things start to happen. Joey is there for other reasons, Chill has heard the boat-man say that he doesn't want to stay, all of them see things in the trees (they catch one such 'thing' on camera, and it's quite eerily done but never expanded upon) and then they hear howling in the trees. On one day of filming, the main crew go one way, Joey and Chill head another and then they discover what else is on the island. To tell you any more would be to give away the thrust of the story - so if you don't want to know, then look away now.

For anyone left, it appears that the crew is sharing the island with a bunch of creatures, which we soon discover are called Aswan. Joey tells Chill and Phoebe that the Aswan were born out of the pain and bloodshed of the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, and they survive on human flesh, drawn by the smell of the blood of pregnant women. These things can shape-shift, which is always helpful and they're only scared of fire and being underground (neither fear is explained, but obviously come in useful later on). They like to kidnap the pregnant women they find, somehow alter the foetus so that it's one of 'them' and, thus, they keep the bloodline going.

As it goes, this isn't a bad film at all. The actors do a good job with the material and their interplay seems natural and assured. The early shots of the creatures, as they move through the trees, are well done and the sound design is very good, building a real sense of menace. Unfortunately, as always happens, once we see the creatures, it becomes apparent that the film's budget didn't really extend to them - from bland faces that look like cheap Halloween masks and body-suits that made me think the special effects company had made monkey costumes and never before used them, they fail to live up to the expectations the brief glimpses had set.

The film has a good internal logic and for the most part sticks well to it - the crew try to make the best of the situation, everyone's fair game and nobody does anything that makes you yell at the telly for being stupid. Some things make less sense the more you reflect on them (how exactly do the creatures alter the foetus' in the pregnant women, why hadn't they killed the villagers before and where the hell did those wings come from?) and the whole shape-shifter thing seems more absurd after than it did whilst you were watching it - feral dogs, then Dex; really? - but these are forgivable faults.

A UK and South African co-production, this was filmed in Durban and there are plenty of beautiful vistas to be seen, though unfortunately the director only chooses to show them as bridging between scenes, a move which becomes irritating quite quickly as it just feels like padding. Generally, when the actors are on-screen, the framing is so tight they could have been in the I'm A Celebrity... clearing and I wouldn't have realised.

Having said that, to reiterate my point above, Surviving Evil is pretty good. It's nice to see a film with strong Brit characters, it's good to watch something where virtually everyone acts the way you think they should and the whole thing runs along quite nicely (though I did spend some of the opening's time wondering just why a film would need 15 credited executive producers). Certainly there are hang-ups, though most of these are clearly budget-based, but the cast and crew acquit themselves well and this is a fine - if sometimes a bit silly - addition to the subgenre.

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